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Is language in ‘A Company of Soldiers’ too raw?

PBS sending edited version of ‘Frontline’ documentary to stations
/ Source: The Associated Press

At least two TV stations will show an uncensored documentary about soldiers in Iraq despite a warning from PBS that it can’t insure stations against FCC fines stemming from bad language.

The public broadcaster is distributing “clean” and “raw” versions of next Tuesday’s “Frontline” documentary about the Iraq war, titled “A Company of Soldiers.”

It’s an example of the television’s industry’s continued uncertainty about Federal Communications Commission standards for language and content, and a real-life echo of last fall’s decision by 66 ABC affiliates not to air the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

The documentary contains 13 expletives spoken by soldiers. But “Frontline” producers also made a separate version with the words edited out, for use by some of PBS’s 170 stations in more conservative parts of the country.

Instead, PBS decided to send the clean version out to all of its stations. The raw version will also be made available, but station managers will have to make a special effort to tape it in advance.

KCTS general manager Randy Brinson told The Seattle Times on Thursday the station will show the unedited version Tuesday in the show’s usual time slot, 10 p.m. PST.

“I watched the program with the flagged comments, and I think that they are totally in context,” Brinson said. “They are journalistically appropriate, they underscore the story, and our decision is to go with the program as originally produced.”

“Frontline” is produced by Boston’s WGBH, which also will air the raw version.

PBS warned its stations that if they want to put themselves at risk of an FCC fine for language, the system can’t insure them, said senior programming executive Jacoba Atlas. To air the raw version, stations must sign a statement acknowledging the financial risk is theirs.

“It’s a financial decision,” Atlas said. “It’s not a decision that reflects on the merit that we think the film has.”