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Some CBS Affils Could Drop Live News

CBS affiliates are telling the Federal Communications Commission that unless it changes its ruling about profanities on-air, many will have to stop doing news outside of the 10 p.m.-6 a.m. safe harbor for indecent speech.

Noncommercial stations, meanwhile, argued that the decision has caused them to significantly self-censor for the first time.

"Live newsgathering outside of the safe harbor will be a risk that many licensees can't take," the affiliates wrote the FCC.

That dire warning came in comments to the FCC as CBS Affiliates and major public TV stations joined the swelling chorus of boos for the commission's decision that it may now find the F-word indecent regardless of context, and fine broadcasters and artists potentially millions of dollars for saying that and other profanities on air.

In its petition, the CBS affiliates warn that the indecency crackdown will "fundamentally alter the manner in which local broadcasters engage in newsgathering." (Already some stations, though not necessarily CBS stations, are buying equipment to delay newscasts. And on Monday, some Phoenix stations reportedly pulled the plug on news coverage of football player Pat Tillman's memorial service when friends let forth with some locker-room language.)

The CBS affiliates also argued that they frequently don't have the ability to alter programming provided by the networks. Even if the networks indemnify them financially, that will be little consolation if they have their licenses revoked, as the FCC has threatened to do for repeat offenders.

In a separate filing, the American Association of Public Television Stations as a group and the major noncom program producing stations, also expressed their concern over the decision's affect on news, documentaries and cultural programs. They say that, for the first time, producers are engaging in "significant self-censorship out of fear of government penalty."

For instance, stations have deleted language from "Prime Suspect" on Masterpiece Theater (and been criticized for the deletions by viewers) and even had to consider whether to edit our a nude lithograph from Antiques Roadshow, even though the show had aired months before with no complaint.

The stations pointed out that their programming  "requires a faithfulness to the sometimes painful reality of the subjects on which we report in news, science and documentary programming.... Our commitment to ensuring that our programming is tasteful and not offensive must not prevent our programming from achieving its core mission of educating and enlightening."

The FCC decision, they say, will undermine that mission.