Much Ado About Nothing

Spineless Abc Affiliates Pull “Saving Private Ryan.”

Tim McGivern
4 min read
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What a difference Janet Jackson's half-second nipple flash makes. Because of Janet, Miss Jackson if you're nasty, Steven Speilberg's Oscar-winning World War II film “Saving Private Ryan” was dropped by KOAT-TV channel 7 in Albuquerque last week and pulled by more than 60 like-minded ABC affiliates across the nation.

ABC networks aired the film uncut in 2001 and 2002 to commemorate Veterans Day, but this year's scheduled broadcast, on Nov. 11, was only shown on a minority of ABC's 125 local affiliates nationwide. This, despite the fact that ABC promised to pay any fines the local stations incurred from the Federal Communications Commission for showing an uncut R-rated film.

KOAT Channel 7, echoing concerns from other stations that an FCC crackdown on profanity and violence could lead to fines or worse, wanted to air the film at 10 p.m. instead of it's original prime time schedule at 7 p.m. But station general manager Mary Lynn Roper said ABC balked at the idea.

Roper said she feared that an FCC fine, hypothetical as it was, could be a catalyst for revoking the station's operating license when it comes up for review. “I'm responsible for the license of this TV station,” Roper told the Alibi yesterday, “and I certainly don't want (to do) anything that runs afoul of the FCC.”

So why then did local stations get weak-kneed this year, when they all ran the film uncut and uninterrupted—twice—in years past, without any trouble from the FCC? All because of Janet Jackson's boob flash, if you can believe that. That's right, the only thing that has changed in the last two years is the $500,000 fine slapped on CBS following the 2004 Super Bowl half time show. (You can still listen to Heather Wilson's skin crawling episode on the Alibi homepage that brilliantly captures the absurdity of the whole affair.)

According to CNN, “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.”

The context such material appears in saving Private Ryan is obviously intended to give a realistic look at war and the language used by soldiers. Obviously it wouldn't be appropriate for small children, and that's why the film aired with a disclaimer and that's also why parents naturally should use discretion when kids are in the room.

But censoring the film was ridiculous and although it's understandable that station managers such as Ms. Roper are constrained by fears of a public outcry and naturally have to be conservative, not a single station that aired the film has been fined. Nor is it likely there will be any backlash from the FCC.

“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,” said Ray Cole, president of Citadel Communications, who owns three ABC affiliates in the Midwest. Cole's stations replaced “Saving Private Ryan” with that other Veterans Day commemorative TV movie “Return to Mayberry.” (You can't make this stuff up.)

According to CNN, an indecency complaint filed in 2002 over the airing of “Saving Private Ryan” was denied by the FCC. “The commission noted then that there were ’no statutory restrictions regarding violent programming.',” CNN reported.

In the same CNN report, Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, said the FCC fining any station for showing “Saving Private Ryan” was far-fetched. “I think that this planet would collide with Saturn before that happens,” he said.

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