• Saving Private Ryan From The FCC
  • November 30, 2004
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Sixty-six ABC affiliates, covering nearly one-third of the country, chose not to air Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning movie Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day, fearing an aggressive Federal Communications Commission crackdown on indecency.

    There are a total of 225 ABC stations. The ten stations owned by the network showed the movie, but affiliates in Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore, Nashville, Honolulu, and Phoenix were among those that did not.

    The critically acclaimed movie contains graphic violence and profanity. The Veterans Day airing was the third time it has been shown on ABC.

    "The overwhelming majority of viewers were comfortable with our decision to run Saving Private Ryan and if the FCC wants to respond to a complaint, we will," ABC spokeswoman Susan Sewell told the Associated Press. The FCC received complaints about the broadcasts and will review them to decide whether to open an investigation, an FCC spokeswoman said.

    Some affiliates asked to push the start from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. to take advantage of an FCC "safe harbor." Sewell acknowledged that the network refused the request, saying ABC wanted the movie "to run in pattern across the country." She said ABC was offering to pay any fines levied by the FCC and noted that the film had been broadcast in 2001 and 2002 and had also survived an indecency complaint before the FCC.

    The stations became concerned in September when the FCC fined CBS more than half a million dollars for airing a brief flash of Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl half-time show. The "wardrobe malfunction" sparked an FCC campaign for tougher enforcement of indecency rules. The FCC also overruled an earlier decision and decided that rock star Bono's use of an obscenity during a 2003 Golden Globes Awards broadcast was indecent and profane.

    Still, there is precedent that suggests the latest airing of Saving Private Ryan may not run afoul of the FCC. The agency has ruled that a broadcast of the movie Schindler's List -- which includes nudity -- did not violate the indecency statute and dismissed a similar complaint against an earlier broadcast of Saving Private Ryan filed by the American Family Association.

    Significance: As reported in the October 4, 2004 issue of [email protected], the FCC has embarked on an aggressive decency campaign that has targeted television and radio stations for inappropriately sexually charged content without providing guidance as to what it considers to be indecent. As the affiliates' decisions not to air Saving Private Ryan demonstrate, the industry has reacted by erring on the side of extreme caution. Now ABC also must deal with the controversy caused by its steamy skit in the introduction to Monday Night Football last week.