ROCHESTER, N.Y.—Though providing “an extraordinary proliferation of choice to the consumer,” the news and entertainment industries today are threatened by attacks on freedom of expression, Barry Meyer told the graduates at the University of Rochester’s 154th commencement today.
Meyer, chairman and chief executive officer of Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc., was the commencement speaker and received the Hutchison Medal, the University’s highest award for alumni.
Referring to calls for “prior restraint-preventive regulation” following Janet Jackson’s performance at this year’s Super Bowl, he described the incident as tasteless and inappropriate but cautioned, to audience applause, “It must not be used as an excuse to launch us down the slippery slope of restricting legitimate expression.
“Neither should political expedience,” he continued, explaining the public has “the right to have its emotions stirred” by pictures of flag-draped coffins or a recitation of the names of soldiers killed in Iraq. Meyer also decried “political correctness,” stating that calls to restrict the release of the movie The Passion of the Christ earlier this year because of presumed anti-Semitism were equally dangerous.
“See it or don’t see it. Be repulsed, be enthralled, or be bored. And, of course, we can’t tolerate any form of resulting persecution or discrimination. But the expression of opinion and point of view, however uncomfortable, must not be constrained,” he said.
Meyer also discussed what he sees as the second dangerous trend in media and entertainment, a trend made easier by digital advancements: the call for unlimited distribution of copyrighted material. Noting the long history of copyright laws, he underscored the necessity of fair compensation and artistic control and how their curtailment could remove artists’ incentive and, consequently, diversity of choice.
“This to me is a matter of basic morality, not technology,” he noted. “The protection of an artist’s rights to what he has created and owns must not be dismantled just because there are new easy methods of circumventing those laws.”
Meyer graduated from the University of Rochester in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He received his law degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1967. One of the most respected executives in the entertainment industry, Meyer became chairman and chief executive officer of Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. in 1999 after having served as the studio’s executive vice president and chief operating officer since April 1994. Meyer joined the company in 1971 as business affairs director for the television division, following two-and-a-half years in both the legal and the business affairs departments of ABC Television Network.
Meyer often serves as a key advisor on industry-wide production, labor, and regulatory issues. He is on the boards of the Museum of Radio & Television and the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television; a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and of the American Film Institute; a member and former Governor of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and is involved in numerous charitable and civic activities, including serving as a director of Human Rights Watch.
Also at this morning’s ceremony, acclaimed author Andrea Barrett received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and Arunas Chesonis, chairman and chief executive officer of PAETEC Communications Inc., received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
Barrett won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1996 and is the recipient of the highly esteemed MacArthur Fellowship. She makes her home in Rochester and teaches in the Master of Fine Arts Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.
Chesonis co-founded PAETEC Communications in Rochester in 1998. The telecommunications company offers services in 27 markets. Chesonis, who received his MBA from the Simon School in 1991, serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations and has received awards for his community service.
The morning ceremony was for the 1,217 candidates for bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. Separate commencement ceremonies also were held today for the Eastman School of Music, Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, and the School of Nursing. The University of Rochester is conferring a total of 2,462 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees this year, including the School of Medicine and the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.