By Lauren Evoy Davis
Broadcasters facing heightened scrutiny over alleged indecent programming sounded off Tuesday in a free-wheeling discussion of shock talk, racy content, and government oversight.
The town meeting featured members of NAB's Responsible Programming Task Force, along with station owners and network TV who talked about what they are doing voluntarily to avoid FCC fines and the wrath of Congress.
CNN's Jeff Greenfield kicked off the featured session "Come Together, Right Now!" by making a naughty play on words.
Greenfield said that the young people who named the session probably didn't know that the referenced Beatles song promoted simultaneous orgasms - his comment livened the crowd right up.
TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY
"We are trying to demonstrate to the FCC and many constituents that we can self-regulate that we do take this seriously," said David Kennedy, president and CEO of Susquehanna Media, in York, Pa.
All members on the panel seemed to agree on one point: that self-regulation is better than having the government decide on which content to air.
However, how the groups would implement the self-regulation was another matter altogether, because of varied demographics in the U.S.
"You can't write rules that apply to all," Kennedy said.
The irony of talking about indecency while spending a week in "Sin City" was not lost on the crowd.
Gary Chapman, chairman/president/CEO, LIN Television, agreed.
"What is acceptable in Grand Rapids and Las Vegas are not the same," Chapman said. "It's difficult for the Supreme Court to decide one size fits all."
USING GOOD JUDGMENT
Training and staff education were offered up as measures that stations can take to ensure that radio and TV personalities make appropriate choices for consumers.
Greenfield peppered panelists with spicy questions, like how can you train people not to send listeners into St. Paul's Cathedral to have sex, a reference to the infamous Opie and Anthony radio show incident. The duo has since moved to satellite radio, where the rules are a lot looser.
"We're never going to cure stupidity in our industry," said Jeff Smulyan, chairman of CEO of Emmis Communications.
More people seem to hear and read about a millisecond of an exposed breast or a televised bachelor party incident than those who may have actually seen these incidents.
For those who may have missed that episode of Fox's "Married in America," it contained the requisite bachelor party rituals - a person eating whipped cream off of exposed, albeit pixilated, body parts.
About the latter, Greenfield asked Tony Vinciquerra, president and CEO of Fox Networks Group, "What the hell was Fox thinking?" Vinciquerra conceded this was "not our finest moment on television," yet maintained the show was not "actionable" in terms of violating FCC indecency rules.
FAMILY SHOWS, RAUNCHY PROMOS
For Victoria Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the concern is not so much about the shows aired during the "safe harbor" hours, but the promos for those adult-themed shows that air during family-viewing hours.
About promos for steamy shows, David Barrett, president and CEO of Hearst Argyle, said, "We have to schedule these things in a more thoughtful way."
Mark Mays, president and CEO of Clear Channel Communications, agreed, citing his six-child household where his wife reigns supreme over the remote control when Viagra commercials and similar promos are broadcast during family television hours.
Rideout said that through focus groups and research, she has learned that parents are less concerned about the fleeting exposure of a breast on TV than they are with the coarse day-to-day content that people are bombarded with.
"TV is powerful, when it comes to kids," she said. "It's a powerful media for both good and for bad."
And while there may be the occasional mistake that makes it to air, Rideout said that somebody chose to greenlight a show, to put something on the air and that these choices have an impact on impressionable young minds.
The indecency debate brings up the chicken or the egg question. Does the coarse society demand coarse programming, or has the programming somehow affected the idea of what is acceptable to its viewers?
Jeff Smulyan said that society is changing.
"It's much different than the society of 'Ozzie and Harriet' on every night," he said.
But did that show accurately reflect American society?
The V-chip and content ratings systems can help parents guard their children against programming they consider inappropriate, and broadcasters can implement five-second delays, but many questions remain about how broadcasters can make parents happy without having the government censor content.
"Let us take a crack at this. Let us self-regulate rather than have the government regulate," Chapman said.
By Lauren Evoy Davis