Wright Joins Indecency Fight


NBC chairman Bob Wright weighed in on the indecency issue Monday in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, saying the country has "much less to fear from obscene, indecent, or profane content than we do from an overzealous government willing to limit First Amendment protections and censor creative expression." That, Wright said, "would be indecent."

The piece appeared to be timed to the start of the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, where indecency will be one of the key topics. It also dovetails with an NBC filing with the FCC today asking it to reconsider its decision that Bono's fleeting and nonsexual use of the F-Word on NBC's 2003 Golden Globes broadcast was indecent.

Viacom Fox and some station groups filed a separate challenge to the Bono ruling Monday as broadcasters began to wage a counterattack against the indecency crackdown.

Wright suggests that broadcast TV is being tarred with the brush of a few radio shock jocks, and makes the argument, which broadcasters have been making consistently on Capitol Hill, that viewers hardly distinguish between cable and broadcast channels and that to single out broadcasters will simply drive more creative and edgier fare from broadcast TV.

The real loser, he says, will be the public. Wright says the FCC's new indecency standard--which makes profanity actionable--is "vague and punitive enough to cause talented writers, producers and actors to flee broadcast television." In addition, he says, "the legislation before Congress [upping fines 10-fold and targeting performers] will require broadcasters and individual performers alike to weigh every move they make in the fear of incurring a fine or triggering an indecency hearing."

As an example of the chilling effect of such vague standards, Wright pointed to the the edit of an ER episode. "We recently cut from ER a fleeting image of a partially dressed 80-year-old woman on a gurney. We did so not because we thought it was in any way parallel to the Jackson-Timberlake fiasco. It was an example of what can happen when the government is empowered to enforce vague and unclear standards. Such discretionary power can force broadcasters to play it safe at the high cost of sacrificing creative integrity. This is precisely the kind of pernicious "chilling effect" that the courts have found to be constitutionally suspect."