Thursday, July 27, 2006

FCC Decency fines already wrecking TV

As I wrote over a month ago in DOH! There goes Television as a Meaningful Media, the threat of FCC fines are having an effect on television production.

I just never thought the next story I wrote about this topic would be about PBS.

Yes. PBS. You see, Ken Burns was working on a little documentary as he is apt to do for Public Broadcasting. You may remember his work about Jazz, his 9 inning opus on Baseball and of course, his masterwork, The Civil War. Now his next project was to going to be on World War II and the effect of the war on four American communities.

Of course, being a documentary about the American world view during the Second World War, some of the language is going to be blue, especially in correspondence, and since actors read these words, these obscenities are given voice, and could result in PBS stations around the country possibly getting substantial fines in the neighborhood of millions of dollars.

Now, the way the system works is that the FCC often will not give a broadcaster assurances that they will not be fined for showing particular content, but rather the governmental organization waits for complaints before investigating what solutions they should undertake. This was the reason that a lot of ABC affiliate stations wouldn't show the uncut network feed of the movie Saving Private Ryan on Memorial Day the year following the Janet Jackson incident, and that was during a time when the fines were a tenth their current level. The FCC can rule that a programs value transcends its potential offenses and it can air with swearing and such despite complaints.

So barring such a ruling, PBS/Ken Burns have two general options when it comes to The War: they can totally remove the swearing (which would severe impact what these ordinary citizens said) or they can show the documentary after 10PM after the so-called family hours, which would vastly limit the number of viewers who would likely see it, and both situations would be bad for the program. The swearing isn't salacious or anything from what I've heard but it is a vital part of the program, and its removal will detrimentally effect the final product.

Hopefully knowing PBS's wide variety of DVD titles, even if the network censors the program, they will release a more "official" version for the home market. It is just too bad that PBS had to be a victim of this draconian law.


Paul said...

It’s a shame that an eminent filmmaker such as Mr. Burns should have to fear that his work will be sanitized by the government. This is completely unnecessary given the fact that parents and individuals already have the TV ratings and content blocking devices that are necessary to make and enforce their own TV viewing decisions.

TV Watch has the answers - at

RC said...

that's very interesting, especially in light that this is with PBS and there is reason they'd include the content that they would.

hum? I'm not sure exactly what i think.

--RC of

MC said...

I think it is ironic because PBS in part receives its money from the US Government, so basically one branch of the government would be seizing funds from another.