Stations threatened by indecency rules

Vague standards for broadcast indecency are putting public TV stations at risk and threaten to deprive viewers of important programs, said Paula Kerger, president of the Public Broadcasting System.

“The fines now would put stations out of business and we cannot allow that to happen,” Kerger last week told a meeting of the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, the Associated Press reported.

“We need to do a better job ... in letting the American people know that this is not just about Janet Jackson,” she said. “This is about filmmakers that have powerful stories that now are not being allowed to tell those stories on public television or broadcast television.”

This week, PBS plans to file arguments in support of a Northern California public TV station that is appealing a $15,000 levied by the FCC over the airing of an episode of Martin Scorsese's music documentary, “The Blues,” AP reported.

The program included interviews in which profanity was used, and the FCC received a complaint from a viewer. The station, KCSM-TV of San Mateo, is liable for the fine, not PBS.

The federal benchmark for what is or is not indecent is so vague that stations are put in danger of violating standards they do not realize exist, Kerger said.

PBS is wary of what might befall an upcoming documentary on the Second World War by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns. The documentary is scheduled to air in fall 2007.

Those sharing their memories for such a film should be able to do so freely, even if swearing is involved, Kerger said.

Kerger said she tried without success in meetings with the five members of the FCC to get assurances that salty language heard from servicemen and others in the Burn's documentary would not run afoul of the indecency rules.

“In order to tell some stories, we may need to use language that the FCC may not think is so appropriate,”Kerger said.