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FCC: Ryan Not Indecent

No stations will be fined for airing the uncut version of World War II movie Saving Private Ryan, the Federal Communications Commission said Monday.

By a unanimous vote, the five FCC commissioners ruled that the profanity and violence of the movie are “integral to the film’s objective of conveying the horrors of war” though the eyes of soldiers. Among the profane words used in the movie were, as the FCC put it, "'f--k,, and variations thereof." Several complainants asked the FCC to investigate the program.

ABC’s Veterans Day presentation of the movie sparked headlines across the country when 66 ABC affiliates refused to air the movie, both out of fear its graphic content would provoke some viewers to file indecency complaints at the FCC and to make the point to the FCC that they felt chilled by the indecency crackdown.

Although the unedited version of the movie also aired in 2001 and 2002 without FCC sanction, the boycotting stations said the FCC’s stepped up crackdown on broadcast indecency led them to conclude there was no guarantee that previous commission clearances would hold.

Indeed, when some stations asked the FCC to reiterate that airing the movie would not lead to a fine, the commission refused to pre-judge the broadcast, pointing out that would be illegal prior restraint.

Playing most prominently in reluctant station managers’ minds was a previous FCC declaration that rock star Bono’s blurt of the f-word during the 2003 Golden Globes was indecent. The decision and other indecency sanctions prompted the networks to institute a several-second delay on live broadcasts like the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

But the FCC said there was a vast difference between the context of the f-word in the Saving Private Ryan and during the Golden Globes shows. “During the Golden Globe Awards . . .the word was shocking and gratuitous,” the FCC said. In Private Ryan, by contrast, it's what one would expect soldiers under duress to say.

The FCC also dismissed complaints brought by the Parents Television Council against episodes of Fox's Arrested Development and NBC's Will and Grace.

PTC complained about a Nov. 16 episode of Arrested Development in which discussion about making popcorn balls devolves into jokes about “corn-holing,” a reference to anal sex and homosexuality.

In the Will and Grace episode, PTC complained that references to sex and drug use crossed the line.

In both shows, the FCC said the dialogue in question was not sufficiently graphic to be considered indecent.

Jonathan Rintels, the executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, praised the Ryan decision: "We commend the Commission for recognizing, as President Bush recently noted in a C-SPAN interview with Brian Lamb, that parents, not government, are the "first line of responsibility when it comes to protecting children from indecent TV programming."
The FCC's decision came one week too late to give guidance to noncommercials stations, many of which were concerned about a Feb. 22 Frontline documentary in which real soldiers in Iraq use similar language. Many aired a version with the rough language edited out for fear of the FCC.