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Indecent Proposal

The Center for Creative Voices in Media was stumping last week in favor of government regulations to combat indecency. Funny, this was the same group that just last year argued against toughening up FCC indecency regs, saying the V-chip, content ratings and simply turning off the TV are preferable to further regulation.

So we were surprised that the group teamed with activist group Free Press to tout a study suggesting a link between media concentration and indecent programming, and urging the government do something about it. Also present at the press confab was the Parents Television Council, which exists to beat up TV for its alleged indecency.

When a group like the Center for Creative Voices in Media, whose advisers include Warren Beatty and Diane English, teams with the PTC, you know something else is at work.

That “something” is breaking up those big media companies. The groups suggested the government might want to step in and re-regulate companies like Viacom and Clear Channel because it's the media giants that elicit the most FCC complaints, by far.

That's the same lure that last year caused liberal Democrats to join conservatives on the Janet Jackson breast-flashing bandwagon. They hoped anti-indecency laws could be tied to breaking up big, bad media companies.

Eventually, those legislators realized the flaw in that approach, which was that backing a crackdown on speech could come back to haunt them.

The Center has long favored a proposal that would require broadcast networks to carve out some time in the schedule for programs made by independent producers, so it's not being totally inconsistent. (One of the solutions to the indecency problem it suggested last week would be to limit the vertical integration of programming and distribution.) But in the end, all this study really “found” was a link between big media and programming that loads of people like and some don't. What it “found” was that Howard Stern works for Viacom's Infinity, and Bubba the Love Sponge, at the time of the survey, worked for Clear Channel radio stations. Stern is now being chased to Sirius satellite radio, where people will have to pay to hear unfettered speech.

Actually, the Center is not even saying any of the programming is indecent. Its message is that, since policymakers are going to react in some fashion to racy programming and orchestrated e-mail complaint campaigns, better to break up companies in the name of indecency than raise fines on stations and performers.

We agree that big media has gotten too big, but that is not an excuse to limit free speech. It is unwise to ever use some peoples' dislike of some kinds of speech to invite the government to regulate it. Period.