The stage was set for a potential showdown on the Federal Communications Commission’s tougher indecency policy after complaints began coming in to the agency Friday over ABC’s airing of “Saving Private Ryan,” which contained dozens of usages of profanity largely considered off-limits in prime time.
An ABC official said affiliate stations reaching about 30% of the U.S., in such major markets as Dallas, Boston and Atlanta, on Thursday preempted Steven Spielberg’s World War II movie, which the network had scheduled in honor of Veterans Day. The Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Assn. launched a campaign to get its members to complain to the FCC about the stations that did air it. ABC was contractually obligated to air the movie unedited and had done so twice previously, with almost no complaints.
An FCC spokeswoman said the agency had gotten “multiple” complaints about “Saving Private Ryan” by midday Friday but declined to comment further.
An AFA spokesman didn’t return a call for comment. In its “Action Alert” to members, the AFA said, “ABC crossed the line by airing at least 20 ‘f’ words and 12 ‘s’ words during prime time viewing hours!” The AFA added, “We realize it is important for families, especially our children, [to] recognize the sacrifices made by our loved ones during wartime. However, airing excessively profane language during prime-time television hours is not necessary to convey that sacrifice. We believe ABC should have aired their salute to heroes without violating broadcast decency laws.”
Other groups were mobilizing to defend the movie’s airing, which ABC accompanied with multiple parental advisories. The Parents Television Council, which has been active in getting the FCC to toughen its indecency policy, issued a statement citing the appropriate context in which the profanity was used.
Jonathan Rintels, head of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, called the FCC policies “the height of absurdity.” “We have been warning about the chilling effect that these new indecency rules would have on television and here they are come to life,” he said.
In the past year, the FCC has substantially increased the amount that stations can be fined for airing indecent material. CBS stations were fined $550,000 after Janet Jackson’s breast-baring during the February Super Bowl halftime show.
ABC, in a statement, called the movie “a timely tribute to the sacrifices and valor” of U.S. veterans.
Even airing in only 70% of the country, the movie drew on average 7.7 million viewers.