Watch Your @#$%ing Language!
Little Leaguers, Janet and serious documentarians all share a common problem
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/27/2006 8:00:00 PM
The indecency/profanity issue is getting more exposure than skin on South Beach. Broadcasters and the FCC prepare to battle in court over profane language and Janet Jackson’s breast, and CBS is ready to re-air an uncensored documentary about 9/11. Elsewhere, a couple of four-letter words out of the mouths of kids forced ESPN to put Little League World Series games on the kind of delay broadcasters use for big leaguers. There’s even a brassy Website called FCCFU.com, which is generating a lot of traffic by protesting the indecency crackdown via song parodies, courtesy of one of the hottest promo houses in Hollywood.
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Can You Say That On Television?
The answer is yes, according to CBS, when it comes to the four-letter reactions of firefighters and filmmakers who produced the documentary 9/11. Stations contacted by B&C agree, although they, not the network, would be on the hook for penalties if the FCC disagreed with the call.
CBS plans to re-air 9/11 on Sept. 10. It looks at life in a New York City firehouse before and during the attack. CBS aired it uncut twice before, with content warnings. That was before the FCC stepped up enforcement of profanity regulations, including citing an award-winning PBS documentary for language.
CBS isn’t worried, but one broadcast executive suggests that some stations have discussed preempting or delaying the broadcast until after 10 p.m.
Roger Ogden, president of Gannett’s TV-station group, which includes six CBS affiliates, says he met with station managers and the legal department and concluded that it’ll run, with the warnings. “We have had brief discussions to be certain we understood the potential ramifications,” he says, likening it to Saving Private Ryan, whose swearing the FCC has concluded is not indecent in context. “But in today’s world, you never know,” he adds. “To some degree, it is a dynamic target.”
Alan Frank, head of Post-Newsweek’s stations, says his CBS affiliates also intend to air the show. He had not heard of plans elsewhere to delay or preempt it.
Take Me Out To the Woodshed
ESPN, which doesn’t generally delay its live sports telecasts, made an exception with the Little League World Series last week after a player’s f-word slipped out. But, even after the network adopted the five-second delay, yet another profanity snuck through the first day of the new policy.
According to ESPN spokesman Mark Mandell, the second time was either human or mechanical error on ESPN’s part. He points out that the network has been using on-field mikes to capture “poignant and interesting” sound from coaches and players.” But, he adds, the cable network does not want to show the kids, who aren’t used to being in the spotlight, “in a bad light.” Hence the decision to keep using the mikes but delay the telecast.
“These two incidents are things we don’t tolerate,” he says. “We will do everything humanly and technically possible to make sure it never happens again.”
Will ESPN delay other programming? Mandel says it handles programs on a case-by-case basis and had more access to the Little Leaguers for miking purposes than to the big leaguers.
Thongs for Nothing
Hollywood-based radio production house World Wide Wadio (WWW) continues to thumb its nose at indecency—targeting government regulators through its FCCFU.com site. The site got plenty of buzz recently when “FCC FU: The Anthem,” a parody of “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” was posted on YouTube and bicycled around by tickled broadcast-industry execs. The first stanza:
My country used to be
Sweet land of liberty
That once was true
Until the FCC
Chose what we hear and see
On radio and on TV
That succinct message is for sale on the site on caps, cups, T-shirts, bumper stickers, dog sweaters—and thongs. WWW says the message is meant to be a protest injected into the popular culture, with the aim of “taking the first crucial step toward that most American of all activities: political protest in the name of Free Speech.”
Among WWW’s clients for its show promos are a laundry list of media companies, including many that have been on the business end of the FCC’s indecency crackdown, such as CBS, NBC, and Fox.
Given the list of companies in the FCC crosshairs, was WWW concerned about burning bridges as it flamed the commission?
“We initially had some concern that some of our clients might be uncomfortable with FCCFU, and we kept a fairly low profile as creators of the site,” says President Paul Fey. “However, we didn’t want to remain completely anonymous either. Since we started developing the idea, CBS and Fox have sued the FCC over the fines/rulings—so we at least have some sense of where they 'officially’ stand on the indecency rulings.”
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