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11.15.2004
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Dozens of ABC affiliates silence “Private Ryan”

Dozens of ABC affiliates across the country chose not to air the Academy Award-winning film “Saving Private Ryan” last week fearing backlash from the FCC.

The war film was dropped by the stations, allegedly because of fears they could be fined by the FCC for indecency. The stations were supposedly fearful of the film’s graphic language and violence in light of a recent indecency crackdown by the FCC.

Reports of the number of ABC’s 225 affiliated stations across the United States that did not show the film ranged from 18 to 65. In some areas the film was screened as part of a Veterans Day commemoration and was shown with regular warnings about its content.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a former Vietnam prisoner of war who introduced the film on ABC, said it “comes nowhere near indecent. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is a powerful and important depiction of the sacrifices made for our country. While it contains violence and profanity, these are not shown in a gratuitous manner.”

The Parents Television Council, an organization that has been among those campaigning against indecency, also endorsed the film. Its president, L. Brent Bozell, said “context is everything” and the film should be classed alongside Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List.”

The controversy came amid a climate of uncertainty in over-the-air broadcasting over what breaches the rules of taste and decency in the eyes of the FCC. Terrestrial broadcasters for the vagueness of its indecency rules have criticized the commission and the arbitrary way it enforces them.

CBS stations are disputing a $500,000 FCC fine for showing a flash of Janet Jackson’s exposed breast during the Super Bowl. The FCC also ruled an expletive used by rock star Bono at an awards ceremony in 2003 was indecent and profane.

“Saving Private Ryan” was shown on ABC in 2001 and 2002 without problems. ABC’s contract with Hollywood film studio, DreamWorks, prohibited the network from editing the World War II movie, and requests by affiliates to show it at a later hour were turned down by ABC, station owners said.

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