Thursday, November 11, 2004

Ditching Private Ryan

I will not be able to view Saving Private Ryan tonight. My local station has decided not to air the film, as it is unsure if the language and violence in the film will pass muster with the FCC. They are joined by many other stations across the country. Steven Speilberg would not allow the stations to edit the film, for which he won the directing Oscar in 1998. A haunting tribute to what Tom Brokaw named the Greatest Generation, the film earned several other Oscars that year. There is not a doubt that it art, and not the slightest bit obscene, by any measure.

The reasons these stations fear arbitrary rulings by the FCC that might jeopardize their licenses is I think reduced to two, maybe three key reasons. First, Michael Powell refuses to definewhat is or is not allowed on broadcast television:

FCC chairman Michael Powell warned broadcasters to be careful what they wish for on Tuesday, telling the industry's trade group that they do not want the government to define exactly what words or actions are indecent.

Some industry leaders, most notably Viacom's Mel Karmazin, have pushed the commission to say exactly what is meant by indecent speech. They argue that the current definition is too fuzzy to tell them how far they can go before facing a stiff fine.

"You don't want the government to write red book of what the government says you can and cannot say," he told a packed crowd at the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention.

Second, perhaps, is the focus on Bono saying "fucking" on the Academy Awards show in 2003. The FCC let that go, but Michael Powell called for it to be reviewed again, and his stepping in on that case has caused a chilling effect far more than Janet Jackson's nipple, or Howard Stern's rants about anal sex. They're worried because of the head of the FCC and because he won't define the rules.

Finally, they are worried because the FCC reacts not to what is aired, but to complaints. Those complaints come from fundie groups, and Steven Speilberg is famously known for supporting Democratic candidates. Yeah, I think these stations are fearful these fundie groups will send in complaints in order to punish Hollywood, and the way I'm reading it, the stations have no clue how beholden Michael Powell is to the fundie groups. Given the Bush Administrations's leanings, they have every right to fear the FCC's potential actions.

No, it isn't censorship. It's a chilling effect and a direct reaction to this election.