×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Redstone rips gov’t censors

Viacom and CBS topper sez media in fear

WASHINGTON — Entertainment and news execs are “living with a great deal of fear” thanks to increased government censorship, Sumner Redstone warned Monday night.

Speaking at the Media Institute’s annual fund-raising banquet, the Viacom and CBS chairman ripped Congress and the Federal Communications Commission for using the cover of indecency rules to usher in censorship in both news reporting and entertainment programming.

“Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a world where, increasingly and alarmingly, a couple thousand form complaints from people condemning shows that they have never watched can result in an indecency fine 10 times higher than it was a year ago,” he told a black-tie aud of Washington media power brokers. “It’s a world where these same form complaints can lead regulators to dictate business models that ultimately will do more harm than good.”

Redstone was on hand to receive the nonprofit research group’s First Amendment Award. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt picked up the American Horizon Award.

Though lamenting the effects of censorship is not new for media execs, Redstone said recently stepped-up enforcement of indecency rules by the FCC, coupled with a steep increase in fines ordered by Congress, has led to dangerous new levels of self-censorship.

“PBS recently began instructing its producers to self-censor all of its shows, including news programming, after one of its affiliates was slapped with a fine against Martin Scorsese’s documentary on the blues,” he noted.

Fear of “onerous fines” led 11% of CBS affils to preempt the network’s doc on 9/11 firefighters, while Phoenix TV stations dropped coverage of a live memorial for NFL star Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan, “because of the language used by mourning family members.”

CBS is currently fighting several hefty FCC fines in court, including one resulting from Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl.

As for entertainment programming, the Viacom and CBS exec had advice for those who may be offended: Follow his example and don’t watch.

“I’ll confess I never did get ‘Beavis & Butthead,’ and the popularity of ‘Jackass Number Two’ is lost on me,” Redstone said. “And I admit that not every CBS show is on my must-watch list.”

But he said the answer is to arm parents with “the ability to block content they don’t want their children to see,” not to leave it up to the government to determine what is and is not suitable for viewing.

“Give the government the tools to punish those it doesn’t like or silence what it doesn’t want to hear, and you undermine democracy,” he said.

Plenty of government officials were on hand to hear Redstone’s remarks, including newest FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who keynoted the evening.

McDowell, who joined the agency in June, urged the industry and regulators to “work together to strive for more private sector solutions” to curbing violence and profanity in the media.

But he warned that if “effective solutions” aren’t found, “then government is going to fill the vacuum.”

President Bush’s appointment of McDowell, a longtime telecom lawyer and Republican party activist, gave the GOP a 3-2 majority on the commission.

More Scene

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Anthony Anderson LADF

    Why Anthony Anderson and Billie Jean King are Giving Back with the Dodgers Foundation

    Celebrities and athletes came together at the Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala to celebrate the team’s commitment to supporting youth and to catch a glimpse of the event’s headliner: Bruno Mars. Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss were honored at the fifth annual event, which raised over $3 million for programs benefiting Los Angeles youth. [...]

  • Shia LaBeouf poses at the premiere

    Shia LaBeouf to Host Birthday Fundraiser for Slauson Rec. Theater Company

    Shia LaBeouf is celebrating his 33rd birthday by giving back. The actor, who turned 33 on June 11, will host a fundraising concert later this month for the Slauson Rec Theater Company, a 10-month-old free performing arts program he co-founded in downtown Los Angeles. The night will also include a preview of the Slauson Rec [...]

  • Awkwafina, Lulu Wang Celebrate New York

    Awkwafina Wants 'The Farewell' to Break Boundaries of Cultural Differences

    Family dysfunction is universal despite cultural differences. That’s what writer and director Lulu Wang wants audiences to take away from her film “The Farewell” starring Awkwafina. “This movie will teach us universality out of specificity. There’s something that we can all kind of relate to across cultures. There’s something we still have to learn about [...]

  • Elizabeth Debicki

    Elizabeth Debicki Talks About Being Supported by Other Women in Hollywood

    Elizabeth Debicki is looking to the future — which makes sense, since she was named Women in Film and Max Mara’s “Face of the Future” for 2019. “No pressure,” Debicki laughed when Variety asked the actress about the honor on the red carpet. “It means a great deal. I have always deeply respected the work [...]

  • Carla Gugino Jett

    How Carla Gugino Is Redefining the Anti-Hero in Cinemax's Crime Drama 'Jett'

    “This is like no character I’ve ever played,” Carla Gugino told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of Cinemax’s “Jett” on Tuesday night. “I think television is filled with great roles for women, which is such a godsend these days. But the anti-hero — there’s still a double standard there.” In the new series, Gugino [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content