10 Questions for Sumner Redstone

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The chairman and CEO of Viacom, the American media giant, was in China last week to announce new business ventures in that country for MTV and Nickelodeon. Back home, meanwhile, another Viacom network, CBS, was weathering the flak over its disputed report on President Bush's National Guard duty. Redstone spoke with TIME's Neil Gough in Guangzhou.

HOW CLOSELY HAVE YOU BEEN FOLLOWING THE CBS NEWS CONTROVERSY?

Let me first give you some perspective. Neither I nor any executive at Viacom has any access to or plays any role in the news reports that come from CBS. Like you, we read about them in the newspapers. Notwithstanding that, I have, for obvious reasons, been carefully monitoring the situation. I have been talking continually with [CBS president] Les Moonves and with the members of the Viacom board. Now we have set up an independent panel — and believe me, it is independent, and believe me, it will move very fast — and I am satisfied that they will reach the right and appropriate conclusion and we will then act accordingly.


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DO YOU FORESEE THIS INCIDENT AS HAVING ANY SHORT-TERM OR LONG-TERM IMPACT ON THE BRAND?

Of course it's had a short-term impact. It would be foolish to deny that. But long-term impact? No. Certainly not economic. Eight of the top 10 shows in all of television are shown on CBS. That's an extraordinary record that can't be overlooked because of this incident. And what advertisers buy are programs.

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN CBS NEWS FINALLY HAD TO BACK DOWN AFTER ITS DEFENSE OF ITS STORY?

My reaction from the beginning was one of severe distress.

DO YOU SEE A NEED FOR CHANGE AT THE NEWS DIVISION?

I think it would be too early for me to judge. I intend to maintain a kind of independent view until I see what this panel has to report. And then you can assume that whatever is appropriate will take place.

WHAT ABOUT DAN RATHER? WILL HE BE ABLE TO REMAIN AS LONG AS HE WANTS AS ANCHOR?

I already said that I would wait for the report to try to determine whether there should be any consequences to anybody at CBS News. I have found him, by the way, to be a very good reporter over the years. And, frankly, a very good friend. And I grieved all the more because of that friendship.

WHAT ABOUT POLITICS?

There has been comment upon my contribution to Democrats like Senator Kerry. Senator Kerry is a good man. I've known him for many years. But it happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican Administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.

YOU'RE IN CHINA NEGOTIATING NEW BUSINESS DEALS. BUT IT IS STILL A VERY REGULATED AND PROTECTED INDUSTRY. HAS THE MARKET OPENED UP?

I have been coming here for many years. Those years were spent for the most part in building relationships of friendship and trust with the various officials of the Chinese government. And as a result, from a commercial standpoint the doors have just opened — and they have opened wide.

HOW DO YOUR CHANNELS DO IN CHINA?

Nickelodeon is the highest-rated product on the CCTV [China Central Television] kids' channel. And we expect to triple our distribution by the end of the year to make the total distribution of MTV China about 10 million.

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