'Private Ryan’ and Public Censorship
By Jonathan Rintels and Peggy Charren -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/21/2004 7:00:00 PM
When numerous ABC affiliates refused to air Saving Private Ryanon Veterans Day, these broadcasters vividly demonstrated that the chilling effect of the FCC’s newly expanded indecency regulations on appropriate, important and educational speech on free over-the-air television is no scholarly abstraction but is very real, costly and dangerous.
Much of the American public lost the ability to view Private Ryan because, under new FCC rules, context, quality and parental warnings repeated ad nauseum no longer matter. For children, programs that feature contestants eating bugs are fine, commercials for erectile dysfunction are okay, but Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s love letter to America’s veterans, airing on Veteran’s Day after two prior previous broadcasts with few complaints, is today verboten.
Proponents of these new rules claim they are necessary to protect children. But few parents in America can plausibly claim they are unfamiliar with Private Ryan, a multiple-Oscar– winning film with a blockbuster theatrical release, huge video and DVD sales, and the prior television exposure. After the intense press coverage of the affiliates’ decision to pull the film, parents had plenty of opportunity to make sure their children didn’t watch, if that was their choice. However, for those who didn’t know about the film and failed to utilize their V-chip to block programs like Private Ryan with a TV-MA rating, ABC aired repeated warnings about its content.
So how can it be that the thousands of persons reportedly filing complaints with the FCC over Private Ryan actually had children who saw it?
The answer is, of course, that the complainers and their children didn’t watch. For highly organized pressure groups such as Reverend Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, whose Web site and e-mail “AFA Action Alerts” urge people to file complaints with the FCC whether they saw Private Ryan or not, the goal is to prevent everyone else from viewing what they don’t approve of. And they have willing accomplices at the FCC and in Congress. It’s censorship by Big Brother, pure and simple.
Many parents, including us, believe censorship of an important and educational film like Private Ryan is a tragedy for not only our children but our nation. We have the right as parents to make our own choices about what our children watch, not Donald Wildmon. Despite its profanity and violence, the broadcast of Private Ryan was a remarkable opportunity for parents and children alike to better understand the realities of war. On this Veterans Day, with America again at war, what could be more timely?
The real Private Ryans and his fellow veterans of World War II fought so that their children might continue to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. Today, those children—and the broadcasters who serve them—must continue that fight.
Rintels is executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media. Charren, on the center’s board, founded Action for Children’s Television in 1968 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.
No related content found.
No Top Articles