Last Veterans Day, sixty-six ABC affiliates across the country refused to air Saving Private Ryan over fears that they would be vulnerable to severe fines from the FCC because of the movie’s profanity and violent images. (ABC was contractually obligated to air the movie in its entirety without any editing.)
At the time, a watchdog group called the Parents Television Council, which reportedly has been behind as much as 99% of the complaints about indecency received by the FCC, gave its approval of the movie’s airing, profanity, violence and all.
But just because the PTC decided not to complain (assuming they didn’t change their mind), that didn’t stop others from doing so. And now the FCC, which has found itself buried in such complaints since it began revamping indecency guidelines (and attracting the attention of every overly-sensitive prude that is willing to come out of the woodwork long enough to whine about sitting through some terrible program rather than simply changing the channel), has had its say:
An item in The Hollywood Reporter (no direct link available; registration required) quoted FCC sources who said that the commission is preparing to deny those complaints. That has to make ABC and the affiliates that actually aired the movie breathe a sigh of relief.
But while the Parents Television Council was ignoring ‘Ryan,’ they were keeping themselves occupied, gluing themselves to televisions to watch programs they feel no one should watch because their subject matter is so offensive. (Ironic, isn’t it?)
Also recently acted upon by the FCC is a stack of thirty-six PTC complaints about episodes of television programs that have aired between October 29, 2001 and February 11, 2004. Episodes of Dawson’s Creek, NYPD Blue, and Boston Public were criticized by the group for their use of a pejorative word that could be interpreted as a synonym for “jerk.” The four letter word in question is also the first name of our current Vice President. Episodes of Will & Grace, Friends, and Scrubs were among several other series targeted for discussing sexual matters.
The Washington Times (no direct link available) reported Monday that the FCC is also dismissing those complaints, after concluding that “in context, none of the segments were patently offensive under contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, and thus not indecent.” The commission also found that the material was “not profane, in context,” according to a statement issued from the agency.
This is more good news for broadcasters in that they won’t face fines for the programs in question. But it’s bad news, too, because it further confuses the issue of what is and isn’t offensive.
Lawmakers are again ready to discuss the possibility of raising fines for broadcasters and performers, according to both sources. (Washington Times link is here.) The latest proposal would not only increase the maximum fine for a broadcast licensee from the current $27,500 to $500,000, but would also increase the maximum fines for individual performers from the current $11,000 to $500,000. It would also repeal a portion of the current law that allows the FCC to issue a warning on the first violation. Seems a little unfair to me, especially when there is still no clear-cut guidelines about what will or won’t incur such a high fine.
As always, it comes down to an issue of what is offensive to you. There are plenty of shows on television that I think cross the line at some point. Shows that deal with topics I don’t want to see depicted are shows I don’t watch. What a concept!
There are lots of channels out there, and some of them actually have decent programming that hardly ever offends anyone. But you’ll notice that PBS is never at the top of the Nielsen ratings. I wonder why.