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FCC’s Adelstein Says Context Matters in Indecency Decisions

Nov 18, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In a welcome development for the ABC affiliates that didn’t pre-empt the network’s Nov. 11 Veterans Day broadcast of “Saving Private Ryan,” Federal Communications Commission member Jonathan Adelstein suggested Thursday that he is not sold on the argument that the movie’s coarse language-which includes frequent use of the F-word-makes it indecent.

Concerned that recent FCC decisions suggest the prime-time broadcast could run afoul of agency indecency prohibitions, 66 ABC affiliates, reaching 36 percent of the nation’s TV homes, declined to carry the Academy Award-winning film. They were particularly concerned because the FCC’s decision earlier this year involving comments by singer Bono at the Golden Globe Awards held that use of the F-word and similar expressions violates agency guidelines regardless of the context in which they are used.

But during his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, Mr. Adelstein, a Democrat, said he believes that a program’s “cultural and artistic merit” should be taken into account in agency indecency reviews.

“The context matters,” Mr. Adelstein said. He said it is important to note that “Private Ryan” ran uncut twice previously on the ABC Network without FCC sanction.

“It’s not gratuitous; it’s not meant to shock,” Mr. Adelstein said of the use of expletives in the film. He also said he is also concerned that recent FCC indecency rulings may have had the “chilling effect” of spurring the mass pre-emption.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it the “height of hypocrisy” that many ABC affiliates that pre-empted “Private Ryan” — a movie the lawmaker believes is a must-see work of art — ran a controversial network promo for its series “Desperate Housewives” this week during the opening of ABC’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast.

ABC and the NFL have apologized for the promo, which showed “Desperate Housewives” star Nicolette Sheridan dropping a towel and leaping into the arms of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens in a locker room. Sen. McCain called the promo a “disgraceful performance.”

In an inside-the-Beltway surprise, Mr. Adelstein won a last-minute reappointment from President Bush earlier this week to a new term at the FCC.

After the confirmation hearing, Sen. McCain told reporters he expects Mr. Adelstein to receive Senate confirmation for the new term before Congress adjourns from its post-election lame-duck session in the next few days.