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FCC rejects ‘Private Ryan’ complaints

66 ABC affiliates did not air World War II drama
/ Source: The Associated Press

ABC’s broadcast last Veterans Day of the Oscar-winning war movie “Saving Private Ryan,” which contains graphic violence and profanity, did not violate indecency guidelines, regulators ruled Monday.

The film contained “numerous expletives and other potentially offensive language generally as part of the soldiers’ dialogue,” the Federal Communications Commission said.

“In light of the overall context in which this material is presented, the commission determined it was not indecent or profane,” the five-member FCC said in a unanimous decision in denying complaints over the movie.

“This film is a critically acclaimed artwork that tells a gritty story — one of bloody battles and supreme heroism,” FCC chairman Michael Powell said in a statement. “The horror of war and the enormous personal sacrifice it draws on cannot be painted in airy pastels.”

Some complaints also cited the movie’s violence, but the FCC said its indecency and profanity guidelines were not applicable to violent programming.

A spokeswoman for ABC in New York declined comment.

Sixty-six ABC affiliates, covering nearly one-third of the country, ultimately decided not to air Steven Spielberg’s movie on Nov. 11 due to skittishness over whether the film would be deemed indecent — even though the FCC in 2002 had already ruled it was not.

ABC broadcast the film uncut in 2001 and 2002. The movie opens with a violent depiction of the D-Day invasion and includes profanity.

The indecency law bars nonsatellite radio and noncable television stations from airing between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. indecent material such as references to sexual and excretory functions. Those are the hours when children are more likely to be watching television.

But not all sexual and excretory references or scenes are considered indecent. The FCC must consider context and its decisions are subjective interpretations of the law.

Powell said the FCC’s ruling Monday showed how the agency considers the context of the material before issuing an indecency ruling.

ABC and its affiliates made “a responsible effort” to give viewers “full and wide disclosure” over what was to be shown and heard, allowing families to make well-informed decisions over whether to watch, Powell said.

The FCC, in separate rulings, also denied indecency complaints filed by the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group, against the NBC comedy “Will and Grace” and the Fox comedy “Arrested Development.”