NBC: Fw: FCC Issues New Indecency Decisions

Fred Dabney fdabney@nmsu.edu
Thu Mar 3 14:41:58 EST 2005

Recently, someone commented about the TV networks not touching
"Saving Private Ryan"

> Folks:
> >>Yesterday, the FCC released three indecency complaint decisions, in each
> >>case finding no violation of its rules and policies.  In one case,
> >>involving ABC Stations' airing on Veterans Day of the movie Saving
> >>Private Ryan, the FCC moved squarely back into the mainstream of its
> >>traditional indecency analysis focusing on context, and away from the
> >>notion (in the Golden Globes case) that some words (in particular, the
> >>F-Word) are "per se indecent."
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>Very coincidentally, the Saving Private Ryan decision strongly supports
> >>the views of those in public broadcasting circles (including yours
> >>that the recent PBS Frontline program A Company of Soldiers was not
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>The complaint against Saving Private Ryan was filed by American Family
> >>Association and others.  It argued that the movie contained numerous
> >>expletives, including the F-Word, as well as profane language.  It also
> >>urged that the graphic depiction of violence was a problem.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>The ABC Stations airing Saving Private Ryan included a segment
> >>introducing the movie in which a decorated veteran of the D-Day landing
> >>and Senator John McCain called the movie "an extraordinary tribute to a
> >>generation of brave men...."  Both through Senator McCain's
> >>and through additional viewer advisories prior to the film and after
> >>commercial break, the Stations warned viewers that the movie was not
> >>appropriate for children.  The Stations also used the "TV MA LV" codes
> >>reflect that the movie was for mature audiences due to its language and
> >>violence.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>The FCC concluded that the movie was NOT indecent, relying on the
> >>of the broadcast.  It assumed for the sake of argument that the first
> >>prongs of indecency analysis were satisfied - the expletives were
> >>explicit and graphic, and they were repeated at length.  However, the
> >>determined that the material did not appear to pander or intended to
> >>titillate, or otherwise appear to have been presented for shock value.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>The FCC stated as follows:
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>The subject matter of the film, the portrayal of a mission to save the
> >>last surviving son of an <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns =
> >>"urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Iowa farm family,
> >>events that occurred during World War II.  As stated in the introduction
> >>to the broadcast, in relating this story, the motion picture
> >>realistically depicts the fierce combat during the Normandy invasion,
> >>including, according to a veteran who participated in and witnessed
> >>events, "things that no one should ever have to see."  Essential to the
> >>ability of the filmmaker to convey to viewers the extraordinary
> >>conditions in which the soldiers conducted themselves with courage and
> >>skill are the reactions of these ordinary Americans to the barbaric
> >>situations in which they were placed.  The expletives uttered by these
> >>men as these events unfold realistically reflect the soldiers' strong
> >>human reactions to, and, often, revulsion at, those unspeakable
> >>conditions and the peril in which they find themselves.  Thus, in
> >>context, the dialogue, including the complained-of material, is neither
> >>gratuitous nor in any way intended or used to pander, titillate or
> >>shock.  Indeed, it is integral to the film's objective of conveying the
> >>horrors of war through the eyes of these soldiers, ordinary Americans
> >>placed in extraordinary situations.  Deleting all of such language or
> >>inserting milder language or bleeping sounds into the film would have
> >>altered the nature of the artistic work and diminished the power,
> >>and immediacy of the film experience for viewers.  In short, the vulgar
> >>language here was not gratuitous and could not have been deleted without
> >>materially altering the broadcast.  In this context, we must proceed
> >>caution and exercise restraint given "the high value our Constitution
> >>places on freedom and choice in what the people say and hear."
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>             Moreover, the presentation by the ABC Network Stations is
> >> not intended as family entertainment, a fact clearly and explicitly
> >> stated in the introduction that precedes the film and is repeated in
> >> aural and visual viewer advisory and voluntary parental code that
> >> each commercial break during the broadcast.  Thus, parents had ample
> >> warning that this film contained material that might be unsuitable for
> >> children and could have exercised their own judgment about the
> >> suitability of the language for their children in the context of this
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>The FCC distinguished the Golden Globe decision, which had been
> >>reasonably interpreted as creating a "per se indecent" rule for certain
> >>expletives such as the F-Word, and had therefore given PTV stations
> >>even for such material as the recent Frontline program, as follows:
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>             We find that this case is distinguishable from that in
> >> we previously found the use of the word "f_____g" during the broadcast
> >> of the 2003 Golden Globe Awards ceremony to be indecent and profane in
> >> context.  The contextual differences between the expletives contained
> >> the broadcast of the film here and that contained in the 2003 broadcast
> >> of the Golden Globe Awards ceremony are critical to our analysis under
> >> section 1464.  The utterance of the word "f_____g" by a performer
> >> the Golden Globe Awards telecast occurred in the context of a live
> >> awards program in which use of the word was shocking and gratuitous,
> >> where no claim of "any political, scientific or other independent
> >> was made, and during which children were expected to be in the
> >> audience.  Consequently, we concluded that, in context, the use of the
> >> word "f______g" in that instance was indecent and profane.   In
> >> contrast, and as discussed above, in the different context presented
> >> here, the complained-of material broadcast during the presentation of
> >> the film "Saving Private Ryan" is not indecent or profane.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>As noted above, this analysis seems to return the FCC to where it was in
> >>its indecency analysis prior to the political dust-ups resulting from
> >>Golden Globes ceremony and the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.  As
> >>it is both legally sustainable (I believe) and sensitive to First
> >>Amendment concerns.  Good news, indeed.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>The FCC also yesterday released two other decisions, one involving a Fox
> >>program called Arrested Development, and one involving an NBC program
> >>Will and Grace.  In both cases, people complained about sexual
> >>content.  In both cases, the FCC found that while the material did
> >>arguably describe sexual or excretory organs and activities, the
> >>references were not sufficient graphic or explicit to be actionable.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>The cases are found on the FCC's website at:
> >>
> >>(Saving Private Ryan)
> >>
> >>(Arrested Development) and
> >>
> >>(Will and Grace)

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