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O’Shaughnessy: Broadcasters Doing Little to Protect Their Free Speech

O'Shaughnessy: Broadcasters Doing Little to Protect Their Free Speech

The government is using its “vast life and death power” to censor information it doesn’t like. And broadcasters are doing nothing, collectively or individually, to stop it.
Thus says William O’Shaughnessy, president of Whitney Radio in New York and a frequent speaker on First Amendment issues.
In remarks prepared for MBA students at Fordham University, O’Shaughnessy noted that NAB Chairman Phil Lombardo spoke last week and brought new focus to the indecency issue from the broadcasters’ perspective.
“His speech alone won’t stop the government’s runaway freight train loaded with censorship – but Lombardo’s declaration is a rallying cry for our timid profession which has met the incursions with such an embarrassingly muted response,” he said.
O’Shaughnessy said he understands why businesspeople in radio find it practical to sign consent decrees to settle indecency complaints, but he said, “The public’s chief interest, I believe, is in having its most powerful press – the so-called electronic media – free to tell the truth, whether that is in a news story or to be found as an artistic expression.”
He continued:
“All the disparate elements of our profession – radio, television, the networks, the independents, the groups – will one day regret failing to more vigorously check government power on indecent speech … if the next questionable, edgy or controversial category turns out to be something we suddenly decide – at the moment – is more worth fighting for.”
He said indecency and obscenity issues should be handled by the courts, as they are for other media, and not a political buraucracy.
Broadcasters, he said, “should put aside tactics and strategies and bickering over ownership caps and ‘must-carry’ … and fight for the right to program our news and cultural and entertainment offerings ourselves.”