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Some stations pass on "Private Ryan" over indecency concerns

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Some stations pass on “Private Ryan” over indecency concerns

  • ABC affiliates declined to show the unedited Academy Award-winning movie “Saving Private Ryan” on Veterans Day concerned about recent costly Federal Communication Commission indecency rulings.

Nov. 15, 2004 — ABC stations, including those owned by Cox Television, Citadel Communications, Belo Corp., Hearst-Argyle and Scripps Howard Broadcasting, decided Wednesday not to air the 1998 war movie “Saving Private Ryan” on Veterans Day, The Washington Post reported.

Most of the same stations aired the unedited film — which contains graphic violence and profanity — on the holiday in 2001 and 2002. But the FCC’s March ruling that U2 singer Bono’s use of the phrase “fucking brilliant” on national television was indecent and profane has sparked concern, The Post reported.

Dennis Wharton, senior vice president of communications at the National Broadcasters Association, said the situation highlights the dilemma many stations face in crackdowns in broadcast indecency. “It’s an unfortunate situation and many stations are putting their license on the line without any clear guidance from the FCC on what’s appropriate and what’s not,” he said in an interview.

NAB “doesn’t have answers, but we do have a lot of questions about what the FCC rules and what the crackdown means,” he said. “We have trouble understanding why it’s so difficult [for a station] to find out if it will be fined. The FCC won’t tell us in advance. So many stations end up erring on the side of caution.”

Stations are looking for guidance from the FCC and, until they get it, viewers will see a lot of these pre-emptions, Wharton said. “It’s not worth risking a license or a $5,000 fine. The viewer will be the loser in this situation. It has the potential to lead to less risk taking and less creativity,” he said.

A number of the stations, including Hearst-Argyle’s ABC affiliates and KCAU-TV Sioux City, Iowa, had planned to move the broadcast into the post-10 p.m. indecency safe harbor, Broadcasting & Cable reported. ABC rejected the plan.

“The right solution for our station is to air Saving Private Ryan in its entirety at 10 p.m.,” Hearst-Argyle said in a statement. “Since ABC has denied that request, we are left with the choice of either broadcasting the programming at 8 p.m. and incurring serious regulatory exposure by the FCC or not broadcasting the movie at all.”

Citadel Communications’ ABC affiliates in Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa, and Lincoln, Neb., pre-empted the movie, The Post reported.

“The Federal Communications Commission has changed its standards for certain content related to programming broadcast before 10 p.m.,” Ray Cole, president of Citadel Communications, said in a news release.

The film is being introduced by Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz,), who told Broadcasting & Cable Wednesday he did not think the film was indecent.

“Saving Private Ryan is a powerful and important depiction of the sacrifices made for our country and for freedom during World War II,” McCain said. “While it contains violence and profanity, these are not shown in a gratuitous manner. The FCC faces the difficult task of determining when content is indecent, and in my estimation, the content of this film, aired in the context of a national holiday, paying tribute to our veterans, and with appropriate warnings to parents, does not come close to crossing that line.”

Part of ABC’s deal with director Steven Spielberg in obtaining rights to the film was that the movie had to run uncut, Broadcasting & Cable reported.

ABC has told its affiliate stations it would cover any fine the FCC might choose to impose over the movie broadcast, The Post reported. However, an FCC fine could be used against a station when its license comes up for renewal.

The Parents Television Council, an indecency watchdog, said it will file no complaints against the movie’s airing, Broadcasting & Cable reported.

“Context is everything,” said PTC President Brent Bozell. “We agreed with the FCC on its ruling that the airing of ‘Schindler’s List’ on television was not indecent and we feel that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is in the same category. In both films, the content is not meant to shock, nor is it gratuitous. We applaud ABC for letting viewers know ahead of time about the graphic nature of the film and that the film would be uncut.”


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