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Sinclair To Delay 9/11 Doc

Sinclair Broadcasting said Friday that it will delay CBS documentary 9/11 until after 10 p.m. on its two CBS affiliated stations. CBS called the decision regrettable but understandable.

In a release, Sinclair explained the move:

"It is unfortunate that the current rules, which promote censorship and impose excessive fines, coupled with the lack of clear or advance guidance from the FCC, impede broadcasters from airing programs that honor our heroes and memorialize significant events, such as 9/11, that have unified us as a nation," the company said.
"The application of such restrictions to broadcast television is especially troubling given the lack of restrictions imposed on content distributed via the Internet, as well as content on cable and satellite television, which are received by the vast majority of the public in the same manner as is broadcast television," Sinclair said.
"Moreover, the rules and fines do not differentiate between broadcasters based upon market size, as a result of which the potential fines are such that if imposed, they could effectively put out of business television stations located in markets similar in size to the locations of Sinclair’s CBS affiliates."

"We are delaying the broadcast until 10:30 p.m. Central time on KGAN Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and until 11:30 p.m. on WGME Portland, Me.", said Sinclair EVP and chief financial officer David Amy.

Sinclair is concerned about potential indecency fines for swearing in the unedited documentary, which features first responders caught in the firestorm of the World Trade Center collapses.

Amy said having to move the shows into the post-10 p.m. safe harbor period was "unfortunate," but he pointed to the potential $325,000 fine. "You can look at Saving Private Ryan [who's swearing the FCC found not indecent] and feel safe, he said, "but then there was the PBS blues documentary," who's swearing the FCC found indecent.

CBS has said it does not expect to have any FCC problems with the show.

Sinclair preempted Saving Private Ryan altogether on its ABC affiliates, a move that came before the FCC ruled it was indecent. The FCC does not pre-screen or prejudge individual shows, which would constitute prior restraint.

CBS plans to re-air the riveting 9/11 documentary Sunday, Sept. 10, at 8-10 p.m. NYT as part of its marking of the five-year anniversary. The show will carry a language warning at the top with an audio and visual--it also had a warning for its other airings--and Robert DeNiro, in an updated opening, will reference the sensitive subject matter and graphic language.

It first aired on the six-month, then one-year anniversaries of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The critically acclaimed special attracted an average 39 million viewers—more than a third of all TV sets turned on during the two hours when it debuted Sunday, March 10, 2002—with higher proportions in the cities most closely tied to the Sept. 11 disasters: New York, Boston and Washington. It was the most-watched non-sports program of the season to that time. CBS produced it along with filmmaker brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet.

The FCC has cracked down on profanity, but says it depends on context and is not de facto indecent.

The filmmakers, brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, had been working all summer on a profile of a probationary fireman stationed at a firehouse just blocks from the World Trade Center. Their footage contains film of the first hijacked plane striking Tower 1 and the only known images from inside Tower 1 on that morning.
"Given the current regulatory atmosphere," said a CBS spokeswoman, "the decision of some stations to delay or preempt 9/11, even though it aired twice before in 2002 and will include appropriate audience warnings, is regrettable but understandable."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.