Academy blasts ABC over Oscar tape delay. The Academy fears that the network is opening the door to censorship by imposing, for the first time, a five-second delay on the broadcast

By Gary Susman
Updated February 11, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
Michael Moore: KRT/MindySchauer/Orange County Register/NewsCom

Thanks to Janet and Justin, ABC will broadcast the Oscars with a five-second tape delay for the first time, over the Academy’s protests. Though the network is contractually free to impose the delay despite the Academy’s disapproval, Oscar officials aren’t going to accept the change in silence. Academy President Frank Pierson wrote a bitter letter to the organization’s members protesting the delay, calling it tantamount to censorship and warning of a slippery slope that would result in ABC snipping out not just profanity but also — should any winner or presenter decide to emulate Michael Moore’s acceptance speech last year — controversial political remarks as well.

”Even a very brief tape-delay introduces a form of censorship into the 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,” Pierson wrote. And while the current delay is long enough to blot out only a word or two, Pierson asked, ”how much broader a scope might be sought in subsequent years, and how long before not only words, but ideas become subject to deletion?” He said he recognized that ABC, like the other networks, is under increased federal scrutiny after the Super Bowl debacle. ”The threat of massive fines of dubious legality present ABC with a serious financial, legal and moral dilemma, and we’re sympathetic with them,” he wrote. Nonetheless, he continued: ”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.”

Oscar show producer Joe Roth said he’s already warned the nominees to be circumspect in their remarks. On Tuesday, he told the Associated Press: ”At the nominees luncheon yesterday, I spoke with the nominees and just said that, when they come up, they’re all under this microscope, unfortunately, because of these events a couple weeks ago.” Still, Roth said that the tape delay would not be used on political speech. ”It applies to the use of profanity,” he said.