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‘Our Resolve Is Absolute. A “Live” Show Is Alive, or Not’

Repercussions from the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl halftime show continue. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Frank Pierson sent the following letter to the members last week:

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At their Feb. 3 board meeting, the Academy governors considered a request from the ABC network to impose a five-second delay on the telecast of the 76th Academy Awards that would allow the network to delete unscripted and objectionable language from the show.

The Academy Awards have never been subject to a tape delay, and in fact have a 50-year track record of maintaining high standards of taste and decorum.

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The governors found themselves balancing a pair of crucial concerns. Even a very brief tape delay introduces a form of censorship into a broadcast -- not direct governmental control, but it means that a network representative is in effect guessing at what a government might tolerate, which can be even worse.

There was also a concern about just how slippery a slope the Academy might be setting its foot on. This year’s five-second delay would be aimed at individual words. Once the principle of a delay has been accepted, though, how much broader a scope might be sought in subsequent years and how long before not only words but ideas become subject to deletion?

The 1st Amendment concerns were weighed against the Academy’s own long-standing objective of offering a tasteful, sophisticated event which parents can encourage their children to watch without concerns about elements of coarseness.

The threat of massive fines of dubious legality presents ABC with a serious financial, legal and moral dilemma, and we’re sympathetic with them.

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But our resolve is absolute. A “live” show is either alive or not. Free speech is free or it is not. Viewers are free to use their remote or Tivo. Parents are responsible or they are not.

The Academy has no contractual ability to refuse the network’s decision to bow to government pressure. But we cannot endorse a delay. We will present the show live, a celebration of achievement, with a little glitz, a little glamour, as always. If it comes with a bleep, we are all losers.


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