‘Saving Private Ryan’ TV controversy
NEW YORK — More than 20 ABC affiliates around the country have announced that they won’t take part in the network’s Veterans Day airing of “Saving Private Ryan,” saying the acclaimed film’s violence and language could draw sanctions from the Federal Communications Commission.
The decisions mark a twist in the conflict over the aggressive stand the FCC has taken against obscenity and profanity since Janet Jackson flashed the world during the last Super Bowl halftime show.
Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie aired on ABC with relatively little controversy in 2001 and 2002, but station owners — including several in large markets — are unnerved that airing it Thursday could bring federal punishment. The film includes a violent depiction of the D-Day invasion and profanity.
“It would clearly have been our preference to run the movie. We think it’s a patriotic, artistic tribute to our fighting forces,” Ray Cole, president of Citadel Communications, told AP Radio. The company owns three ABC affiliates in the Midwest.
Other stations choosing to replace the movie with other programming are located in Atlanta, Dallas, Honolulu, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Orlando, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. They are owned by a variety of companies, including Cox Television, Tribune Broadcasting Corp., Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., Belo Corp. and Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“We regret that the FCC, given its current timidity in dealing in this area, would not grant an advance waiver, which would have allowed stations like ours to run it without any question or any concern,” Cole said.
In a statement on WSB-TV’s Web site, the Atlanta station’s vice president and general manager, Greg Stone, cited a March ruling in which the FCC said an expletive uttered by rock star Bono during NBC’s live airing of the 2003 Golden Globe Awards was both indecent and profane.
The agency made it clear then that virtually any use of the F-word — which is used repeatedly in “Saving Private Ryan” — was inappropriate for over-the-air radio and television.
The Bono case “reversed years of prior policy that the context of language matters,” Stone said. He added that broadcasters could not get any clarification from the FCC on whether the movie violates the standard.
ABC, which broadcast the film uncut in 2001 and 2002, issued a statement saying it is proud to broadcast it again. The network’s contract with director Spielberg stipulates that the film cannot be edited.
“As in the past, this broadcast will contain appropriate and clear advisories and parental guidelines,” the statement said.
The network has about 225 affiliates.
Several stations said ABC had rejected their requests to air the movie after 10 p.m.
An FCC spokeswoman said Wednesday that the agency does not monitor television broadcasts, but responds to complaints. The agency received a complaint after the 2001 broadcast of “Saving Private Ryan,” but it was denied, she said.
WSOC-TV of Charlotte said it received complaints about language in the movie when it aired in 2001 and 2002.
“Now, after much concern and discussion about family viewing over past months, and with Americans at war across the world, it is the vivid depiction of violence combined with graphic language proposed to begin airing at 8 p.m. that has forced our decision,” said Lee Armstrong, the station’s vice president and general manager.
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.
The FCC has stepped up enforcement of its decency standards for certain content following this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, in which one of Janet Jackson’s breasts was exposed.
Profane speech, which is barred from broadcast radio and television between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., is defined by the FCC as language that is “so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance,” or epithets that tend “to provoke violent resentment.”
The guidelines say the context in which such material appears is of critical importance.
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.
‘Saving Private Ryan’ TV controversy