November 11, 2004

Not showing "Saving Private Ryan" on Veterans Day.

Some ABC affiliates are declining to carry the network's Veterans Day broadcast of "Saving Private Ryan," which, pursuant to the network's contract with director Steven Spielberg is shown unedited and contains a great deal of violence and some profanity. Although the film has been shown on previous Veterans Days, events of the past year have heightened awareness of the FCC's concerns about indecency (particularly regarding Janet Jackson's breast revelation at the Super Bowl).
"We have attempted to get an advanced waiver from the FCC and, remarkably to me, they are not willing to do so," [Ray Cole, president of Citadel, which owns WOI-TV in Des Moines, KCAU-TV in Sioux City and KLKN-TV in Lincoln, Neb.] told The Des Moines Register. ...

ABC has told its affiliates it would cover any fines, but Cole, of Citadel, said the network could not protect its affiliates against other FCC sanctions. ...

Cole cited recent FCC actions and last week's re-election of President Bush as reasons for replacing "Saving Private Ryan" on Thursday with a music program and the TV movie "Return to Mayberry."

"We're just coming off an election where moral issues were cited as a reason by people voting one way or another and, in my opinion, the commissioners are fearful of the new Congress," Cole said.
It sounds to me as though Cole is using the occasion to express his displeasure at the outcome of the election, and Veterans Day should not be appropriated for the purpose. Maybe the FCC ought to find a way to clear things like this in advance; the FCC's policy is not to monitor broadcasts, but only to react to complaints. Still, when the network aired the uncut movie before, the FCC denied the complaint it received. Cole's point is that he can't trust the past denial because the FCC's actions in the past year and the election itself make him worry that the result will be different this time. But ABC is promising to pay any fines, so Cole's rejection of the film feels more like political grandstanding. It is Veterans Day, and he ought not to deny viewers access to the network's commemorative experience.

And why "Return to Mayberry"? What the political message is that choice supposed to convey? It's not hard to figure out. You dumb rubes, you voted for Bush? Okay, watch this.

UPDATE: Here's another version of the same story, noting that 18 ABC affiliates are refusing to carry the film and giving a better explanation of the FCC's policy:
Janice Wise, spokeswoman for the FCC's enforcement bureau, said they had received calls from broadcasters asking if the film would run afoul of the rules. Wise said the commission was barred from making a prebroadcast decision "because that would be censorship."

"If we get a complaint, we'll act on it," she said.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I can't get over how crudely political the choice of "Return to Mayberry" is. If you're genuinely concerned about violating decency rules, replace the movie with something else that has some bearing on Veterans Day!

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