“We apologize for impeding the full flow and message of Dave Chappelle’s monologue,” said Steve Hammel, vice president and general manager of the station, which is owned by independent Capitol Broadcasting. “It was not our intention to censor his message. We followed policies and procedures that have been in place for many years for programming of any kind.This is an opportunity for us to review those policies and procedures. We will, and will consider viewer input as we do that.” Local viewers reported that WRAL also cut audio at other points in the program, including during a taped spoof of the popular drama “The Walking Dead.”
The “SNL” episode was an emotionally charged one, showing comedian and host Dave Chappelle tackle last week’s election of Republican Donald J. Trump with some scathing material that made use of words that are often not utilized on TV. After referring to a vulgar term for the female anatomy, Chappelle quickly apologized to Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of the late-night institution, on the air. The episode opened with cast member Kate McKinnon playing Hillary Clinton singing the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah.” “I’m not giving up, and neither should you,” the character told viewers.
In a statement released earlier Sunday, WRAL said Chappelle had used two words it considers indecent or obscene on nine different occasions during the program, and that the station had made use of a ten-second delay to cut the audio when those words were uttered. “Obviously, SNL is a live show so we had no prior indication about what would be said during the broadcast. We understand this caused disruption during the program. We wanted our audience to know this was a station decision, not the network’s, and why we made that choice,” the station said.
Reactions among people who heard about the censorship via social media were mixed. Some people expressed the sentiment that the station’s decision heralded a crackdown on free speech in America under Trump, while others noted the strong language warranted being censored on broadcast TV.
WRAL became an NBC affiliate in February and its owner has long enjoyed a reputation for maintaining its own content standards. While it was affiliated with CBS, Capitol Broadcasting would air local sports games in primetime, or swap out programming it thought wasn’t suitable for viewers. WRAL in 2002 declined to air one of CBS’ Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, according to a 2003 report in The Wall Street Journal. In another instance, it refused to air a CBS dating program called “Cupid.” Instead, it re-aired old episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The station said it heard “from many viewers” about its decision to censor the program.