Saturday, July 22, 2006

In a Word, #^$%*!

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the American version of the Canadian Radio, Telephone and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), while not as dithering, has proven to be just a priggish.

Documentarian Ken Burns has just finished The War, a film about soldiers' experiences in the Second World War. It includes, funnily, some profanities. So, in its infantile wisdom, the FCC has issued a edict on naughty words. In other words, war is (bleep).

The only two ways audience-supported broadcaster PBS can air this show is either 1)bleep out the profanities and digitally obscure the lips (for the benefit of the visually impaired), or 2) air the program after 10pm when Junior is in bed. PBS has chosen option number 2, as reported by the New York Times.
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 FCC 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.

(For those who missed Bush's cuss, it was "shit" as bleeped by the Beeb and revealed by the Ceeb. I, for one, am shocked. Naughty prezzie.)

At first glance, one would think Burns was being unreasonable. Ten o'clock seems like a reasonable hour at which to broadcast The Wars. But it isn't. One audience for documentary is the uninformed, among whom are children. Sure, it's highly unlikely that kids will want to watch this; hell, their parents are more likely to chew their nails over The One than over The National. But the opportunity to watch a program that informs current affairs (i.e., Iraq, Lebanon, Afganistan) is critical.

This also raises the question of why PBS is following FCC guidelines. Well, first it needs a licence. Second, and more important, is funding. While viewers donate money to the station, it must also get funding from the CPB which accounts for 24 per cent of its budget. This is not an insignificant chunk. While there is some foundation and corporate support, PBS relies on what seems to have become a politcally influenced body (See the Washington Post articles and FAIR piece below.)

This leads us to donating. I'll be transparent: while I'd love to give money regularly to my local PBS affliate, WNED, I can't afford to. I have done the equivalent in the past (CKCU, CIUT, WFMU), but those salad days are on hold for now. At some point, I do plan to support the quality programming on PBS...and hope that they will still be there to accept it. I encourage you to watch this great station, and if you can afford to, support it. It serves as a model of what the CBC should be. (More on that later.)

1)Paul Farhi, "PBS Scrutiny Raises Political Antennas," Washington Post, April 22, 2005.

2)Paul Farhi, "Public Broadcasting Targeted by House," Washington Post, June 10, 2005.

3)Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, "CPB Funding Threatened...Again," media advisory, June 8, 2006.

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