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News > Fortune 500
ABC affiliates pulling 'Private Ryan'
Stations in 8 states will pre-empt broadcast of award-winning film due to concerns about indecency.
November 11, 2004: 5:43 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - ABC affiliates in at least eight states will not televise the network's broadcast of the World War II film "Saving Private Ryan" because they fear repercussions from U.S. regulators.

Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Edward Burns in 'Saving Private Ryan.'

Affiliates in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and West Virginia said they were worried about running afoul of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington.

WOI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, said it decided to pre-empt the Academy Award winning film, which depicts several violent battle scenes and contains foul language, over concerns about possible fines by the FCC.

"Would the FCC conclude that the movie has sufficient social, artistic, literary, historical or other kinds of value that would protect us from breaking the law?" WOI-TV President Raymond Cole said in a statement appearing on its Web site. "With the current FCC, we just don't know."

Janice Wise, spokeswoman for the FCC's enforcement bureau, said it had received calls from broadcasters asking if the film would run afoul of the agency's indecency rules. Wise said the commission was barred from making a decision before the broadcast "because that would be censorship."

"If we get a complaint, we'll act on it," she said.

But at least one watch group that has urged the FCC to levy harsher fines for questionable programming said the broadcast should go ahead.

The group, the Parents Television Council, said in a statement on its Web site that "context is everything."

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"We agreed with the FCC on its ruling that the airing of "Schindler's List" on television was not indecent and we feel that "Saving Private Ryan" is in the same category," it said. "In both films, the content is not meant to shock, nor is it gratuitous."

WOI-TV's Cole noted that the station is still concerned even though it has shown "Saving Private Ryan" in prime time on two previous occasions.

Since those broadcasts, however, the FCC has taken a strong stand recently against obscenity and profanity -- especially after the raunchy half-time show during the last Super Bowl telecast. Fines also have been levied for radio shows hosted by "shock jocks."

Academy Awards
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Atlanta (Georgia)

Another affiliate, WSB-TV in Atlanta, said it asked ABC for permission to air the film after 10 p.m. and to have the option to edit some of the scenes.

"ABC would not allow that, nor would it give permission for us to edit out the graphic language," said WSB-TV General Manager Greg Stone in a statement.

"With no options available regarding the preparation of the movie or altering the start time, we decided to pre-empt the network on this night," he added.

Instead, WSB-TV will air several programs produced by its staff.

A fellow affiliate, South Carolina's WSOC-TV, said in a statement on its Web site that ABC's contract with Steven Spielberg prohibits stations carrying the film to edit its content.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified ABC affiliate WSOC-TV as WSCO-TV. We regret the error.

WSOC-TV said it made its decision to withdraw "Saving Private Ryan" amid the war in Iraq and concerns about FCC penalties.

In addition, Sinclair Broadcasting Corp.'s six ABC affiliates will not air the program, according to a spokeswoman for affiliate WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. Sinclair affiliates in North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Alabama and Massachusetts were also affected.

ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co. (Research), has said it is proud to air the 1999 film again.

"As in the past, this broadcast will contain appropriate and clear advisories and parental guidelines, and, as customary, we will provide advance screenings for ABC affiliates and advertisers," the network said in a statement.  Top of page

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