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Old 02-18-2005, 07:52 AM   #1 (permalink)
FCC and News

NEW YORK — At least two TV stations will show an uncensored documentary about soldiers in Iraq despite a warning from PBS (search) that it can't insure stations against FCC (search) 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." (search)

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 (search), 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."
First note that the FCC has not taken any action yet but PBS is afraid of airing this. My question is this should the FCC step in with fines when it comes to valid journalism. It seems to me editing news is a bad thing. While a journalist should make sure his news is in good taste (ie a documentarry on the porno industry that showed lots of porn would be in poor taste) should he also edit the news to make it PG rated? I think this is a bad idea. News should be unedited. What do you guys think?
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Old 02-18-2005, 08:43 AM   #2 (permalink)
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it seems to me that there are two ways to look at this situation in general: one that follows from rekna's post (the role of the fcc) and another, which focusses on the weak position public broadcasting finds itself.

on the latter, see this article from yesterday's ny times (it is a long quote):

Conservatives and Rivals Press a Struggling PBS

Published: February 17, 2005

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 - It was no accident that PBS found itself turning to Elmo, the popular "Sesame Street" character, to lobby on Capitol Hill this week. There were not many options.

Public television is suffering from an identity crisis, executives inside the Public Broadcasting Service and outsiders say, and it goes far deeper than the announcement by Pat Mitchell that she would step down next year as the beleaguered network's president.

Some public television executives said that running PBS was a thankless job, and that managing a far-flung network composed of independent fiefs around the country was a particularly daunting assignment. They also said they were facing larger issues that would challenge any executive, like increased competition from the cable industry.

Corporate underwriters have been less willing to finance PBS programs, which has left the network increasingly dependent on Washington, where Republicans criticize its programming as elitist and liberal.

The network has also struggled to develop popular new shows.

"The biggest problem we've got is the structure we've got," Alberto Ibarguen, the chairman of PBS and the publisher of The Miami Herald, said in an interview yesterday. "It assumes a lot of government funding, continuing heavy levels of corporate image advertising and no competition. But in the world we're in - the world of increased cable competition, less and less government funding and cutbacks in corporate image advertising - it's a significant problem if that's your business model."

Mr. Ibarguen added: "The risk is the tighter your budgets get, the less you can afford to fail. If you can't afford to fail, you can't afford to take risks."

Among the challenges that Ms. Mitchell has confronted is a trend, lasting nearly a decade, in which corporations have scaled back on the so-called "image advertising" through which they had once financed programs like "Masterpiece Theater." According to PBS's financial statements, revenues drawn from program underwriting - which are paid directly to producers, but catalogued by PBS - reached a five-year peak of $221.9 million in 2001, dropped to $179.4 million in 2003, and rebounded slightly to $184.3 million last year.

PBS hopes to relieve some of the pressure by creating a huge endowment from the proceeds of reselling the spectrum used by its stations when they trade their current broadcast positions for new high-definition stations later in the decade. But that will take persuading the same Congressional and administration officials who have objected to its programming.

Conservatives have complained about Bill Moyers's news program (he has since retired from it) and about a recent children's program featuring a rabbit named Buster who visited a pair of lesbian parents.

After Education Secretary Margaret Spellings threatened to retract financing for that program - a controversy that some called Bustergate - Ms. Mitchell decided not to distribute it.

In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Mitchell, 62, said she had felt no pressure, either from inside her board or outside of PBS, to step aside.

She also said she had not been personally pressured to change programming by Republicans at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides federal money to the system. But she said her programmers had worked with their counterparts at the corporation, which is led by White House appointees, in developing several new shows, including a talk show for the conservative commentator Tucker Carlson.

"They certainly want to make sure we are providing a balanced schedule," she said. "We believe we are. We check that with the people we report to - our member stations and the American public."

One high-level executive at PBS headquarters in Washington, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation for PBS, said new managers at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had been concerned about a perceived liberal bias at PBS as well as difficulties in fund-raising.

"The thing to remember with public broadcasting is that everything is steered by the money," the executive said. "What used to be a unique thing is now in this competitive environment and has to do whatever it can to survive, which means bending in a way it used to never bend."

Now that 85 percent of Americans subscribe to cable or satellite television, PBS's children shows, historical dramas and wildlife documentaries face competitors like the History Channel, Discovery, A & E, the National Geographic Channel, BBC America, Nickelodeon, and The Learning Channel. PBS has responded by forging new alliances, like a recent agreement to show HBO films.

Ms. Mitchell, who was interviewed between lobbying meetings, said she would devote the rest of her tenure to raising money. Officials at PBS and its affiliated stations are beginning to lobby for a share of the windfall the federal government may get later this decade when public television stations and other over-the-air broadcasters stop using the airwaves to transmit analog signals, relying instead on digital signals over cable and satellite systems.

Once the broadcasters' part of the spectrum is open, the federal government stands to collect tens of billions of dollars by reselling it to other users like wireless broadband companies. Lobbyists for public television stations are supporting legislation that would put some of the money in a trust fund for public television.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat sponsoring the legislation along with Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, has called for the trust fund to be administered by an independent agency following the sort of procedures used by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Some critics, like Tim Graham of the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, are reluctant to give PBS any independent endowment.

"They want to create an empire that does not have to answer to the Congress or the people," Mr. Graham said. "Conservatives do not want to give more tax dollars to television stations that attack their ideas."

But there are some sympathetic conservatives, at least among the advisers on the Digital Future Initiative committee created by Ms. Mitchell, which met Wednesday in Washington to contemplate how PBS could put a trust fund to use. Norman Orenstein, a committee member who also sits on the PBS board, said Republicans on the committee believed that a trust fund could pay for socially useful programming.

"We're focusing on education and children and making the case that public broadcasting can do valuable things in a digital age that no one else can or will do," said Mr. Orenstein, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group.

But he did not expect the money to come easily.

"You couldn't have a tougher budget environment," Mr. Orenstein said, "and you're going to have vicious scrambling over discretionary domestic spending."

Referring to the recent programming incident, he said, "The timing couldn't have been worse on the Buster thing. This is not a time you want to be in the cross hairs."

PBS is also being criticized by others, like Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a longtime advocate of more money for public television.

"I'm concerned that PBS is so desperate for funding and support from the Republican-dominated Congress that they're willing to sell their legacy," Mr. Chester said. "They could forgo their historic mandate to do cutting-edge programming and replace it with Bush-administration-friendly educational content."

John Tierney reported from Washington for this article, and Jacques Steinberg from New York.
source: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/17/bu...72bW6wadzabKJA

public broadcasting as a political target for the right is yet another lovely legacy of the reagan period--the tying of funding to calls for "balance"--which in this as in all cases simply means integration of a media outlet into the discursive framework controlled by conservatives by whatever means necessary--was a tactic worked out during the 80s. you remember? it was of a piece with the turn to an explicitly reactionary cultural politics in neh and nea grant making that was forced onto the rest of us across the ridiculous dispute over serrano's piss chirst and mappelthorpe's photographs. so the fight over the content of pbs programming is something of an origin myth for neoconservative politics in the cultural domain.

you can see the conflict over funding of public broadcasting from this period as a trial run for the kind of pressure the right is trying now to bring to bear on academic work--it seems the right will not stop until it controls absolutely every source of information dissemination--during the reagan period, broadcast television was itself in a stronger position--now you have a prolongation of the same battle being played out across changed conditions, some of which are outlined in the article above. and this in the context of a far right administration that recognizes no boundaries between politics and policy and that has no qualms whatever in using the power of the state to advance an explicitly ideological agenda. and public broadcasting is finding itself and its position eroded from the side of cable.

so you have continuity and discontinuity at once. which makes this newest conflict--and patterns of censorship that are being brought to bear on pbs across it--both interesting and difficult to evaluate.

personally, i think the fcc has been directed to pressure pbs in particular, despite the erosion of its position, because pbs embodies a notion of the public that the right simply hates. something parallel can be seen in the idiotic legislation that shifts class actions suits into federal courts--the right hates the notion of class (they hate being named, conservatives, being situated--their claims rest on the illusion that they speak for all americans rather than for a particular social class--but that is an llusion--so th right works to wipe out the words that name them, rather then to worry too much about the interests they represent)
a gramophone its corrugated trumpet silver handle
spinning dog. such faithfulness it hear

it make you sick.

-kamau brathwaite
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Old 02-18-2005, 11:06 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Location: io-where?
We can't live in an America where the press is literally afraid for its livelihood for airing or publishing completely valid, newsworthy pieces of journalism. The FCC needs to take a step back and see the line they've crossed here. Spoon feeding the public an edited and censored version of reality is not journalism, it's a soap opera. Leave it up to the networks to decide what to air, not the Federal Censorship Comission.
the·o·ry - a working hypothesis that is considered probable based on experimental evidence or factual or conceptual analysis and is accepted as a basis for experimentation.
faith - Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
- Merriam-Webster's dictionary
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