ABC Affiliate Raises Indecency Concerns Over ‘Private Ryan’

Nov 10, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Citing indecency concerns, ABC affiliate WOI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, announced Wednesday that it will pre-empt the ABC TV Network’s broadcast of “Saving Private Ryan” Thursday evening-even though the broadcast was supposed to commemorate Veterans Day and the movie was widely considered to be a major artistic success.

“We regret that we are not able to broadcast a patriotic, artistic tribute to our fighting forces like ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ said Raymond Cole, WOI president. In a statement, Mr. Cole said the station’s key concern is whether the movie-which contains adult language and graphic battleground violence-would run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission’s new anti-indecency standards.

“Would the FCC conclude that the movie has sufficient social, artistic, literary, historical or other kinds of value that would protect us from breaking the law?” asked Mr. Cole. “Can a movie with an ‘M’ rating, however prestigious the production or poignant the subject matter, be shown before 10 p.m.? With the current FCC, we just don’t know.”

Mr. Cole also said the station is concerned even though it has broadcast the movie in prime time twice previously without complaint.

“Adding to our frustration is the fact that a fine motion picture like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ can be shown on cable or satellite without any government agency restriction or regulation,” Mr. Cole said. Also in his statement, Mr. Cole said other ABC affiliates in Boston, Orlando and Atlanta have also decided to pre-empt the movie.

In its own statement, ABC said it is proud to present the Academy Award-winning film again.

“In keeping with the first two Veterans Day commemorative telecasts in 2001 and 2002, this third telecast of ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ a true-to-life historical drama that depicts the harrowing and devastating realities of the men who fought to protect our country during World War II, will air in its complete, unedited theatrical version. As in the past, this broadcast will contain appropriate and clear advisories and parental guidelines, and, as customary, we will provide advance screenings for ABC affiliates and advertisers. The groundbreaking movie carries a TV-MA, L, V parental guideline.”

Among those suggesting that pre-emption-minded affiliates are overreacting was Lara Mahaney, director of corporate and entertainment affairs for the watchdog Parents Television Council — the group that has been leading the charge for a crackdown on indecent broadcasts.

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Mahaney said PTC wouldn’t file complaints against stations that carry the “Private Ryan” broadcast because the movie’s coarse language and violence are not intended to titillate or shock. She also said the FCC has previously held that “Schindler’s List” did not run afoul of agency indecency prohibitions, even though the movie includes nudity.

“When it comes to indecency, context is important,” Ms. Mahaney said.

An FCC spokesperson said, “If we receive a complaint, we will look into it. But it would be censorship for us to tell people what they could and couldn’t air.

An FCC source also confirmed that in an unpublished decision in 2002, the agency held that “Private Ryan” was not indecent or profane.

But to add to the confusion, the 2002 decision came down before the agency beefed up its indecency standards earlier this year.

In its most recent crackdown effort, PTC asked the FCC to fine NBC and all of its affiliates after NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. uttered the S-word during Peacock Network coverage of an Oct. 3 racing event.