Thursday, February 05, 2004

The Culture: The NFL & Censorship

ROR readers know that only government can censor, that is, only the threat of coercive force can truly prevent ideas from being exchanged. That doesn't stop people from claiming that normal acts of commerce are censorship. Consider this story:

ESPN has canceled its first scripted series, "Playmakers," and the show's creator says it was the NFL's doing.

The cable sports network announced yesterday that the drama series about a pro football team, which the NFL blasted for its sometimes unflattering portrayal of players, will not return for a second season despite record ratings for ESPN.

"Many considerations went into this decision, not the least of which was the reaction from a longtime and valued partner," ESPN executive Mark Shapiro said in a statement. He was referring to the NFL, with which ESPN has a $4.8 billion contract to televise its Sunday night games.

Shapiro told The Post's John Maynard yesterday that the final decision was solely ESPN's. The NFL "did not put a gun to our head," he said.

The NFL in a statement said the cancellation "was an ESPN decision and now we can all move on."

But "Playmakers" creator and executive producer John Eisendrath said: "The NFL canceled the show. Implicitly or explicitly, [the NFL] let it be known that the future of football on ESPN and [corporate parent] ABC hinged on the decision that they made about 'Playmakers,' " he told Maynard.

"This is an example of censorship. There is no way to sugarcoat it." [Washington Post]
No, that's not an example of censorship; that's an example of a hard bargain. ESPN valued its relationship with the NFL more than it did its ability to broadcast "Playmakers." However unlikely, ESPN could have chosen to reject the NFL's demands. A broadcaster does not enjoy that same right with the FCC.

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