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Asstardery II


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July 22, 2006

Soldiers’ Words May Test PBS Language Rules


NY Times


The PBS documentarian Ken Burns has been working for six years on “The War,” a soldier’s-eye view of World War II, and those who have seen parts of the 14-plus hours say they are replete with salty language appropriate to discussions of the horrors of war.


What viewers will see and hear when the series is broadcast in September 2007 is an open question.


A new Public Broadcasting Service policy that went into effect immediately when it was issued on May 31 requires producers whose shows are broadcast before 10 p.m. to adhere to tough editing requirements when it comes to coarse language, to comply with tightened rulings on broadcast indecency by the Federal Communications Commission.


Most notably, PBS’s deputy counsel, Paul Greco, wrote in a memo to stations, it is no longer enough simply to bleep out offensive words audibly when the camera shows a full view of the speaker’s mouth. From now on, the on-camera speaker’s mouth must also be obscured by a digital masking process, a solution that PBS producers have called cartoonish and clumsy.


In addition, profanities expressed in compound words must be audibly bleeped in their entirety so that viewers cannot decipher the words. In the past, PBS required producers to bleep only the offensive part of the compound word.


Since May 31, bits of dialogue have been digitally obscured about 100 times in four PBS programs, most often in two episodes of the music documentary “The Blues.”


Mr. Burns, in an interview, said he was not worried that his work, which he called a “very experiential take on the Second World War,” would be affected by the policy, noting that while the series includes some “very graphic violence,” there are just two profanities, read off camera.


But several other senior public broadcasting executives said “The War” was likely to become a test case for PBS and the F.C.C.


The series includes language for which the F.C.C. has previously issued fines, said a PBS spokeswoman, Lea Sloan. “At this point, the only thing we can do, and fit the guidelines as they are laid out, is to make sure the series airs after 10 p.m,” outside the F.C.C.’s “safe harbor” zone of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when children are most likely to be watching, Ms. Sloan said.


Mr. Burns, perhaps best known for his prize-winning series “The Civil War,” insisted that “The War” would be shown in the preferred time slot of 8 p.m. He said he was “flabbergasted” that F.C.C. policy was being applied to documentaries, particularly when President Bush himself was inadvertently heard using vulgar language, broadcast on some cable newscasts, at the recent Group of Eight summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.


He added that he hoped PBS and public television stations could unite and “stand our ground” in opposing the self-censorship sought by F.C.C. policy, but he noted that “we’ve also experienced as a family the devastating consequences, and it is not something that any station or any executive wants to see repeated.”


In March, the PBS station KCSM in San Mateo, Calif., was fined $15,000 over profanities in “The Blues.” That fine is being appealed.


Ms. Sloan said PBS had to institute the policy after successive F.C.C. rulings steadily narrowed what is permissible. Moreover, legislation signed into law last month by President Bush increased by a factor of 10 the fines for broadcast indecency, to $325,000 a station for each instance.


That was “a real deal breaker,” Ms. Sloan said. “For many of our stations, a single fine of that magnitude would put them into bankruptcy.”


PBS plans to ask the F.C.C. to re-examine its policies regarding documentary programming. “We believe that there is a place for documentary filmmaking that uses language in context,” Ms. Sloan said.


The F.C.C. declined to comment. An F.C.C. official, who did not want to be named because the issue is the subject of litigation, noted that “there aren’t any cases where the commission has fined a broadcaster when an obscenity has been inaudible” but not digitally obscured, adding that “the commission’s analysis always takes context into account.”


Margaret Drain, the vice president for national programs at WGBH in Boston, said her station was already examining how it would probably have to edit references to sexual activities in a coming “Masterpiece Theater” production, “Casanova.”


She said that while she understands how PBS arrived at its policy for documentaries, the station might not adhere to it for series like “Frontline” and “The American Experience,” particularly when tackling war topics where strong language reflects reality.


“The decisions we make in the future, to pixelate or not, may put us in the position of negotiating with or telling PBS about our position,” she said.


Ms. Sloan of PBS said, “This is an unhappy situation for all of us and we’re very concerned about the situation,” but added that producers are required to submit F.C.C.-compliant material.


In mid-June, shortly after the PBS edict, “Frontline” scheduled a last-minute rebroadcast of an episode on the Iraqi insurgency and digitally obscured the mouth of a soldier. Ms. Drain said that the same decision might not be made today, “now that we’ve had time to absorb everything.”


Producers are in a difficult position, she said. “What we’re trying to do is do our work and bring the same kind of high-quality broadcast programs to the public. We don’t want to overreact, and we don’t want to self-censor.”


As for “The War,” Ms. Drain called it “the perfect test case for the F.C.C., because who’s going to take on veterans of this country who put their lives at risk for an honest, just cause?”


“It’s not pornographic; it’s not scatological,” she said. “It’s an emotional expression of a reality they experienced, and it’s part of the historical record.”

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Censorship in ANY form is wrong. But hey, as long as the U.S. is focused on little Suzy not hearing the word F*ck, then they're not focused on real problems such as our military in Iraq, a crushing national debt and the formation of a police state here at home. A nice bit of misdirection by the powers that be.


God DAMNIT I hate politicians!

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What about the children? Won't someone pleeeeaaaassssseeeeee think about the children?!?!?!


The FCC is one of the most useless, yet dangerous arms of the government in existence today. And we all have Janet Jackson to thank for its new found power and the Corvette driving asstards happy to excercise that power.

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I guess war is just far more palatable when the people at home have no idea what it's like.

The fat stupid armchair warriors shoveling popcorn into their gaping maws that pass for one wing of the Repugnitard Party are only dimly aware they are alive, never mind have any idea of reality.

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What about the children? Won't someone pleeeeaaaassssseeeeee think about the children?!?!?!


The FCC is one of the most useless, yet dangerous arms of the government in existence today. And we all have Janet Jackson to thank for its new found power and the Corvette driving asstards happy to excercise that power.


Hey, hey, hey! Easy there buddy. Do not sully the good name of the Corvette by associating it with the asstards at the FCC.

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