WASHINGTON — Parents, and not government agencies, have the primary responsibility for protecting children from indecent material on television and radio, President Bush said in an interview broadcast Sunday night. While maintaining that government does have a role to play, Bush’s remarks seemed at odds with the Federal Communications Commission’s recently stepped-up enforcement actions against allegedly indecent programming.
“They put an off button on the TV for a reason,” Bush told Brian Lamb of C-SPAN. “Turn it off.”
Bush made his remarks on Thursday, the same day the administration decided not to defend the FCC’s proposed changes for relaxing federal rules on media ownership. Broadcast indecency and media ownership have been the two most prominent — and divisive — issues of outgoing chairman Michael Powell’s tenure.
Bush had only mild praise for Powell’s record on indecency.
“I do think … that government can, at times, not censor, but call to account programming that gets over the line. The problem, of course, is the definition of ‘over the line.’ My answer would be, if I were interviewing an FCC chairman, ‘Please tell me where the line is, and make sure you protect the capacity of people to speak freely in our society, but be willing to, if things get too far, call them to account.’ I think Michael did a good job of balancing that.”
$8 mil in fines
Powell did more than that. The FCC issued a record $7.7 million in indecency fines last year, up from $48,000 the year before he became chairman. The commission also reversed itself, determining rocker Bono’s single use of “fuck” on network television was indecent, overruling the FCC Enforcement Bureau’s previous finding to the contrary. And under pressure from Congress and social conservatives, Powell promised more governmental vigilance against indecent programming.
‘Free society’ is ‘great society’
But Bush made no mention of those things. Instead, he said, “Look, we are a great society because we’re a free society. On the other hand, it is very important for there to be limits … to what parents have to explain to their children. Nevertheless, I do want to repeat what I said earlier — the parent’s first responsibility is to pay attention to what their children listen to, whether it be rock songs or movies or TV shows.”
“You shouldn’t read too much into it,” said a Washington communications lawyer, dismissing speculation that Bush might be indicating any kind of policy shift on indecency. “The president has two wars to run. How deeply involved can he be in indecency decisions?”