Clear Channel CEO 'Embarrassed' by Own Broadcasts

John Hogan Delivers Mea Culpa Before Congress

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- In a dramatic mea culpa before Congress yesterday, Clear Channel Radio's president-CEO, John Hogan, said he was personally "embarrassed" and "as a parent of a 9-year-old girl" ashamed of some of the content his own company broadcast.

Photo: AP
Clear Channel CEO John Hogan testifying before Congress on Thursday.

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He appeared along with top executives from the ABC, NBC and Fox TV networks before a panel of the House Energy Commerce Committee that is investigating indecency in commercial broadcasts. The hearing -- the second one on the subject in as many weeks -- was part of the continuing fallout triggered by the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl halftime show.

Rising sentiment
That highly controversial event has created a rising sentiment in Congress that many content producers and their advertisers have gone too far with sexually explicit material in their broadcasts.

Clear Channel on Wednesday said it was dropping shock jock Howard Stern's famously foul-mouthed talk show as well as "Bubba the Love Sponge," a show that aired on several of its Florida stations.

Mr. Hogan said the "Bubba" program was "tasteless," "vulgar" and "we were wrong to air that material," adding that the company's devotion to "localism" stops at obscenity.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed fining the company $755,000 for 26 violations of indecency laws dating back to 2001. Earlier this week Clear Channel fired the show's host and announced a new "no tolerance" policy toward obscenity.

Corporate responsibility
Congressmen, however, suggested that sudden concern by broadcasters to public decency was due more to the FCC's own growing interest in the issue rather than a sudden conversion to corporate responsibility.

"The question members pose is, Would action have taken place if we had not had these hearings?" asked Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. He said he didn't want "reactionary" moves from broadcasters but "genuine leadership."

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said obscenity on the airwaves has increased because FCC Chairman Michael Powell "has simply refused to effectively and fully use his authority" to fight it, and he questioned whether the FCC's "newfound attention and enthusiasm" would last.

Karmazin called 'outrageous'
He also characterized as "outrageous" claims by Viacom's president and chief operating officer, Mel Karmazin, and other broadcasters that unclear FCC obscenity guidelines were to blame.

ABC Television President Alex Wallou, Fox Broadcasting President of Entertainment Gail Berman and Alan Wurtzel, president of NBC's research and development, complained that cable and satellite competitors were being held to a different standard.

"A lot of what is cited about deterioration is what is on cable and satellite," Mr. Wallou said, adding that ABC's shows aren't even close to being obscene.

The network executives also announced several initiatives. Mr. Wallou said the Academy Awards broadcast on his network on Sunday would be delayed slightly for the first time and it will display ratings symbols more often during a show. Ms. Berman said Fox is launching an ad campaign promoting the V-chip, and will be doing a special on obscenity on the Fox News Channel. Mr. Wurtzel endorsed higher fees for obscenity violations and said NBC has strengthened its review of programs.

Right to refuse
Harry J. Pappas, chairman-CEO of Pappas Telecasting, an owner of TV stations, said that TV networks' failure to give their affiliate stations the right to refuse network shows was contributing to the problem. Lowell W. "Bud" Paxson, chairman-CEO of Paxson Communication, said Congress and the FCC needs to do more to prevent the inclusion of indecent content in cable programming.

After the hearing Ms. Berman said Fox, which had been looking at indecency even before the Super Bowl incident, had decided not to go ahead with some reality shows because of those concerns. She declined to identify the shows.

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