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Ken Burns Vs. F.C.C. — Censoring War on PBS

Ken Burns Vs. F.C.C. -- Censoring War on PBS

Public broadcasting has again found itself clashing with the needs of the public.

In the New York Times on Saturday, an article “Soldiers’ Words May Test PBS Language Rules” examines Ken Burns’ latest project “The War,” and new policies at PBS that demand certain material be blocked out. According to the story, certain comments by soldiers who fought in World War II that appear in the doc could conflict with new rulings on broadcast indecency by the FCC.

“Most notably, PBS’s deputy counsel, Paul Greco, wrote in a memo to stations, it is no longer enough simply to bleep out offensive words audibly when the camera shows a full view of the speaker’s mouth. From now on, the on-camera speaker’s mouth must also be obscured by a digital masking process, a solution that PBS producers have called cartoonish and clumsy.”

“In addition, profanities expressed in compound words must be audibly bleeped in their entirety so that viewers cannot decipher the words. In the past, PBS required producers to bleep only the offensive part of the compound word.”

Margaret Drain, the vice president for national programs at WGBH in Boston, said Burn’s “The War” was “the perfect test case for the F.C.C., because who’s going to take on veterans of this country who put their lives at risk for an honest, just cause? It’s not pornographic; it’s not scatological,” she said. “It’s an emotional expression of a reality they experienced, and it’s part of the historical record.”

“Gunner Palace,” a documentary about the war in Iraq, is one of the few cases I can remember of a film that was effectively censored by the MPAA with a R rating, and after fighting back with arguments about the importance of information about the war, got their rating knocked down to a PG-13.

With war increasingly enveloping our lives (thanks Bush-Cheney), the media continues to try to sanitize its bloody and devastating consequences. How many bodies of wounded and dead Lebanese children have you seen on the Nightly News lately?

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