TV stations scold FCC

Nets: Indecency crusade out of control

The indecency debate has clearly taken a new turn when PBS stations start editing the image of a 50-year-old nude lithograph out of the popular “Antiques Roadshow.”

Public television stations said Wednesday that the FCC’s crackdown on indecency is out of control and fast jeopardizing their ability to air quality programming. Revelation came in a joint filing with the Federal Communications Commission by the Assn. of Public Television Stations, the Public Broadcasting Service and several leading public TV stations.

Broadcast network affils were just as concerned in separate FCC filings, with CBS and NBC affiliates saying their ability to provide live news coverage is now endangered.

In its recent Bono ruling, the FCC said it may no longer consider indecent language in context, meaning a station could be fined if an expletive is uttered, period. The broadcast nets are urging the FCC to overturn its decision, with affils and public TV stations now joining in the chorus of outcry.

“The order, if not corrected, will fundamentally alter the manner in which local broadcasters engage in newsgathering. It also will change the relationship between networks,” CBS affiliates said in their filing.

That’s because local stations won’t want to take the chance of providing a live news feed in the event that someone utters an expletive and there is no time to cut away. NBC affils echoed this concern.

Point was driven home in recent days when some Phoenix TV stations dropped coverage of the live memorial service for Pat Tillman, the former Arizona football player killed in action in Afghanistan. Station execs said they had no choice but to do so when family members used potentially indecent language in their remarks.

“Self-censorship is the harsh result of the order; it is intolerable and contrary to the public interest; and it cannot be allowed to stand,” Peacock affiliates said.

The FCC decision arose from NBC’s live broadcast of the Golden Globe Awards, during which the singer Bono uttered the word “fuck.” FCC originally said it was an isolated incident and not a problem; after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show, the FCC reversed itself.

In its filing, the Assn. of Public Television Stations said stations have begun rushing to edit out any material that may get them into trouble.

“This self-censorship by public television producers and broadcasters, who have a longstanding, demonstrated and consistent track record of offering quality, stimulating and education programming, has resulted in a loss to the public television system and the public we serve,” the association said.

In addition to the recent deleted scene of the lithograph in “Antiques Roadshow,” some public TV stations have edited language out of the most recent “Prime Suspect” series starring Helen Mirren. Also, public stations have been editing potentially inflammatory material from different documentaries about the Iraq war.

Numerous viewers have complained to their public TV stations about the edits, according to the filing.

” ‘Prime Suspect’ was another huge reason not to contribute to WGBH (Boston). Helen Mirren’s salty character, Jane Tennison, had every word deemed ‘off color’ deleted by WGBH censors. Now I know why I watch BBC America and not WGBH,” said one Boston viewer.

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