Mel Karmazin Defends 'Anal Sex' Radio Broadcasts

Viacom COO Invokes First Amendment and U.S. Troops in Iraq

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with the New Yorker's Ken Auletta on Tuesday morning, Viacom's president and chief operating officer, Mel Karmazin, railed against the Federal Communications Commission over its indecency crackdown.

Photo: AP
Mel Karmazin criticized the FCC, the Republicans and journalists.
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Republicans
He also said Republicans had not shown they were less regulatory minded than Democrats when it came to big media companies.

The morning's event was titled "A Conversation With Mel Karmazin" and was hosted by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in New York at Manhattan's InterContinental Barclay Hotel.

Mr. Karmazin, whose company is challenging an FCC indecency fine for an incident on shock-jock Howard Stern's radio show, was asked by Mr. Auletta whether it was OK for Mr. Stern to discuss such things as anal sex on air. He responded that America was a place where people have the freedom to say what they want.

'Fighting in Iraq'
"We are fighting in Iraq for freedom. ... If it doesn't appeal to you, shut the radio off. Just because you don't like the words 'anal sex,' doesn't make it indecent."

Mr. Stern's radio show is carried by Infinity Broadcasting, which is owned by Viacom. Mr. Karmazin said Viacom has lawyers listening to the shows to determine if the material is indecent. "We're very clear we don't broadcast indecency," he said, adding that the FCC defines indecency as "a discussion of sex or excretory matter with a patently offensive manner."

Mr. Karmazin charged there was a great deal of confusion at the FCC about what exactly is "indecent." "We think it is a very slippery slope," he said. "So many journalists have not been supportive of the first amendment."

No cable acquisitions
Turning to Viacom's business, he ruled out any near-term intentions to acquire cable systems or make a run at MGM, but he did say he had his sights on Time Warner's CNN.

"We would love to own CNN," he said. "We could add value in part because we have a broadcast network. Not that Time Warner isn't doing a good job. ... My understanding is that CNN is not for sale and there's nothing you can do about it."

While defending the broadcast networks as still an advertiser's best value buy in terms of reaching large numbers of people, Mr. Karmazin predicted that cable networks would have a particularly strong upfront this year. (Viacom owns the broadcast network CBS, and cable networks including MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon.)

250 Web sites
Also ruling out a major play in the Internet sector, Mr. Karmazin pointed out that if all Viacom's 250 Web sites were aggregated, it would make them as large as Primedia's About.com or Terra Lycos. He said MTV was exploring ways to offer a music downloading service for consumers. He described the Internet as an "important area of growth," and predicted it would rise from a 2% share of the total advertising pie to 7% within the next five to six years, but cautioned, "That's still small. The Yellow Pages is at 7%."

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