September 7, 2005

Katrina telethon draws stars; can they speak out?

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Recording stars Sheryl Crow, Alicia
Keys, Paul Simon, Neil Young and the Dixie Chicks will headline
a telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims slated to air this
week on six major U.S. networks and around the world, producers
said on Wednesday.

But it was not clear whether they or any of the other
celebrities booked for Friday's event, including comedian Chris
Rock and movie star Jack Nicholson, will be permitted to freely
express their opinions during the show or required to stick to
the script.

The question arose after impromptu remarks last Friday by
rapper Kanye West, who used his appearance on a similar NBC
network broadcast to accuse President George W. Bush of racism
in the government's relief effort.

"George Bush doesn't care about black people," West said,
adding criticism of the media's portrayal of blacks.

Kanye's comments were carried on NBC's live feed to the
East Coast and central time zones but were cut from the
tape-delayed broadcast aired on the West Coast and mountain
regions. NBC said West had deviated from his script and that
"his opinions in no way represent the views of the network."

The General Electric Co.-owned broadcaster is one of the
six major networks planning to simulcast a separate live,
commercial-free special this Friday, titled "Shelter From the
Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast."

The hour-long event also will be carried by numerous U.S.
cable channels and broadcast in more than 100 countries,
organizers said. Proceeds will go to disaster relief efforts of
the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Although West was absent from the lineup of performers
announced for the show, a spokeswoman for producer Joel Gallen
told Reuters that West was slated to make a live appearance.

But she and two other spokesman for the show all said they
did not know what, if any, steps producers would take to censor
or curb political statements celebrity participants might make.
One NBC spokesman said a decision about a possible time delay
for the live broadcast had not been made.

A number of stars on the bill, including the Dixie Chicks,
Sheryl Crow, Chris Rock and Neil Young, are known for their
outspoken views on political and social issues.

A spokeswoman for MTV, which is planning to air yet a third
all-star telethon for hurricane relief, said the cable music
channel "does not censor artists." She added West was slated to
perform in a pre-taped segment for the MTV special.