August 21, 2002 6:13 AM PDT

Media chief decries Net's moral fiber

ASPEN, Colo.--The president of media giant News Corp. warns that the Internet has become a "moral-free zone," with the medium's future threatened by pornography, spam and rampant piracy.

Speaking Tuesday at an annual conference organized by the Progress & Freedom Foundation, Peter Chernin decried the "enormous amount" of worthless content online. He also predicted that without new laws to stave off illicit copying, News Corp.'s vast library of movies may never be made available in digital form.

"The vast potential of broadband has so far benefited nobody as clearly as it's benefited downloaders of pornography and pirates of digital content," Chernin told an audience of about 200. News Corp. owns 20th Century Fox and Fox Television.

Chernin called for a broader understanding that unapproved copying is morally wrong, while admitting that his own children sometimes wavered. He said that the federal government must support technological and legal methods to thwart Internet piracy.

"The stall tactics and smoke screens of those who have purposely ignored digital shoplifting can no longer be tolerated and can no longer mask the ulterior motives that have driven them all along," Chernin said. "The truth is that anyone unwilling to condemn outright theft by digital means is either amoral or wholly self-serving."

Chernin's comments come as Congress considers an unusually large number of proposals that would disrupt peer-to-peer networks, boost technology used for digital rights management and grant more power to copyright holders. All have been introduced by Democrats, and all have been criticized by computer scientists, programmers and academics.

In an interview after his speech, Chernin threw News Corp.'s support behind three controversial bills. The company backs a plan by Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., to implant copy-protection technology in software and hardware devices, as well as a bill introduced last month by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., that would authorize copyright holders to hack into and disrupt peer-to-peer networks.

News Corp. also endorses a bill by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who hopes to make it a federal felony to try to trick certain types of devices into playing unauthorized music or executing unapproved computer programs.

"We support efforts to help us fight digital piracy," Chernin said. "We applaud any of those guys in Congress who are helping to wave the flag for us."

Rick Lane, a lobbyist for News Corp., said he recognized that some of the bills have drawn strident criticism. "We're having those discussions with members of Congress...It's all part of the deliberative process," Lane said.

Chernin decisively attacked sexually explicit material on the Internet.

"The prevalence of pornographic Web sites and e-mails is a lot more than an insult to common decency," Chernin said. "It's an increasing reason to keep kids and families off the Internet. And these are only part of the virtual logjam of valueless clutter."

Others at the conference disagreed.

Bruce Mehlman, an assistant secretary at the Commerce Department, wondered whether it was fair to blame technology for social and political problems. He said that the Internet was still young and that many problems could be worked out over time.

 

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