Katrina telethon draws stars; but can they speak out?

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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 US 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 be 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 in the mountain regions. NBC said that 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 US 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 spokesperson for producer Joel Gallen told Reuters that West was slated to make a live appearance.

But she and two other spokespeople 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 spokesperson 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 spokesperson 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 that West was slated to perform in a pre-taped segment for the MTV special.

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