The Television Business:

Hiding Behind the 1st Amendment...
Or Choosing Social Responsibility?

But ultimately, the exploitative and vulgar programming we are seeing today traces back to a steadfast refusal to take responsibility for the effects of programming. Executives are in frantic denial, insisting that television simply reflects culture and denying that their programs have an influence or shaping effect.

Meanwhile, of course, their advertising sales departments are explaining to advertisers how they can effectively shape customer demand!

When these denials fail, executives wrap themselves in the First Amendment and adopt a lofty and self-righteous pose as heroes who defend the First Amendment. But the fact is that there is very little art, creativity, or freedom of expression in network television. Ask nearly any writer or actor who has strayed from the corporate agenda.

Shows like Jackass, Jerry Springer, and Jenny Jones have been targets of many lawsuits. The Jenny Jones Show lost a $25 million civil suit in 1995 that found them responsible for Jonathan Schmitz shooting Scott Amedure after the latter revealed his crush on him during a taping of the show; but other suits have been less successful.

"These executives are banking their whole business on the courts upholding the First Amendment protections," says Bill Allen, former president of MTM Productions and VP of CBS.

Real change in the television business will not come until more executives begin to take personal responsibility for the effects their decisions have on society. This is what we refer to as "socially responsible media."

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