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PBS Feels FCC Chill On Censorship 1037

Shadow Wrought writes "The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting on PBS censoring one of its upcoming drama shows, Cop Shop, due to the chilling effect of the most recent FCC rulings on indecency. Star Richard Dreyfuss offered these choice words as part of a prepared statement, 'It is inescapably censorship under guidelines imposed after the fact by those who are in temporary political power, and so it should be treated as what it is -- a real-world moral and ethical battle with grimly wrongheaded, un-American types who play pick and choose when they define our freedoms of speech and religion as it fits their particular political needs.'"
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PBS Feels FCC Chill On Censorship

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  • Wrong poster child (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Monday July 12, 2004 @02:51PM (#9677540) Homepage Journal
    From the article's subhead:
    3 no-nos bleeped from new crime drama -- Richard Dreyfuss blasts government censorship

    And further down the article:
    The cuts prompted executive producer and writer David Black and Dreyfuss to whip out prepared statements before facing the nation's TV critics here on Friday.

    Tonight on PBS: the world's smallest violin plays "My Heart Bleeds For You".

    I'm no fan of corporate-owned media, and the whoring of the airwaves by the likes of FOX. Today's "Reality shows" remind me of the government-run pornography industry in Orwell's 1984 -- a handy way to distract the masses from reality (election? what election?).

    But I doubt that "Cop Shop" is going to be the poster boy for government interference with free speech. I suspect that the star and producer have no higher goal than propping up their show's ratings. They had a prepared statement -- the press release crying "censorship" was composed before the show was even screened. That tells me that the show needs propping up by the controversy, because it's likely to fall down under its own pompous weight.

    Of course, I could be wrong...
  • by nysus ( 162232 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @02:55PM (#9677613)
    Yes, and everyone should read this eye-opening article, as well. Sorry, New York Times reg req'd: Antiwar Group Says Its Ad Is Rejected []
  • How to Fix this (Score:2, Interesting)

    by VonGuard ( 39260 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @02:59PM (#9677666) Homepage Journal
    Well, not really a fix....

    BROADCAST EVERYTHING ONLINE! There's no censorship in these here hills.

    Abandon your televisions, throw away your radios! Head to the hills, and bring your yagi!

    Television needs to die. Corporate radio needs to die. These FCC rulings are just going to make that happen faster.
  • by ElForesto ( 763160 ) <elforesto @ g m a i l . c om> on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:04PM (#9677735) Homepage

    Well, that's no secret. I don't like government-supported media at all because of the potential influence they can have in the content.

    On another note, the article seems to pretty much be a rehashed press release for PBS. No quotes from the FCC, no attempts to contact the FCC (that were mentioned), no opposing viewpoint at all. The bias is obvious.

  • Re:Howard Stern (Score:1, Interesting)

    by ednopantz ( 467288 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:07PM (#9677784)
    Keeping my kids from growing up to be Howard Stern seems worth almost any price!

    No joke. Why do people think that restricting their vocabulary to 7 special, magical, "sentence enhancers" makes them edgy, liberated, or some such nonsense?
  • by Motherfucking Shit ( 636021 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:07PM (#9677786) Journal
    They're censoring "Fuck", "Shit" and "Blow job". Are they saying that they had to remove these words because of he evil Bush government? Those words haven't been "allowed" for many years now.
    I heard the word "fuck" on PBS programming several years ago. I don't recall the name of the show, it was some sort of documentary about homelessness or poverty. IIRC, they were interviewing a homeless guy about something when "fuck" slipped through.

    A couple of months ago, definitely post-Janet-Nipple, an episode of NYPD Blue used the word "bullshit." This was the hyped up episode which was supposedly going to feature a steamy love scene at the end, where they toned down the love scene, but didn't bother to edit out "bullshit."

    Bullshit is right. One quote from the article that gave me a hearty laugh:
    "As for the word 'f -- ,' " he said, "I stand with Vice President Cheney, who recently used the word on the Senate floor and who said sometimes you have to use it unapologetically because you feel better afterward."
  • Re:Since when is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tenareth ( 17013 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:15PM (#9677897) Homepage
    A couple points:

    1). That's the point... the rules have gotten so harsh now that people are going to start fighting it by going to the other end of the spectrum, it's the way you make a point...

    2). Richard wouldn't have to pay... as the law is right now, each seperate PBS station would have to pay if it aired it un-edited.

    3). PBS generally had a sort of "pass" when it came to the FCC, hence the reason they were able to air unedited version of Monty Python back in the 80's and 90's, including nudity and swearing. They did this with other things too. Not sure if it was some sort of real free pass, or just a "we won't look at PBS" type thing.

    Finally... censorship has to go... it is getting ridiculous now. If a channel goes beyond what people like, they won't watch that channel. Let free market deal with non-family friendly stations.

  • Astonishing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kindbud ( 90044 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:20PM (#9677967) Homepage
    It's quite astonishing to see all the Slashdot posters applauding cvensorship and getting modded up. I wonder if the RNC has been having a Slashdot posting seminar.
  • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:24PM (#9678044) Homepage Journal
    More to the point, it's all about nipples, not breasts. My wife was watching a show called "Dr. 90210" about plastic surgeons, and this one lady was trying to get a boob job corrected (the first guy she went to fouled it up). They showed picture after picture (topless, full view) of her boobs as they talked about the procedure, but where the nipple should have been, they fuzzed it out.

    Beyond stupid...
  • Second that! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:33PM (#9678163) Journal
    Far, far too much of the current US debate is all about ad hominem attacks. It never seems to matter what anyone says anymore..

    It's all about "he's just out to sell his book/movie", "get attention" or "to further his/her career". Either that or it's about who they hung around with 30 years ago. Or who they've had sex with. Or if they've ever used drugs. Or how they used to feel differently, and therefore must be hypocrites.

    From following the so-called debate, you wouldn't think anyone ever said anything just because they actually believed in it. Or that it could actually be, that someone with personal faults could actually be right, and that a person with a spotless reputation could be wrong about something?

    It just makes me sick. And anyone thinks this posting is itself partisan in any way*, they need to seriously start thinking about what democracy is supposed to be about.

    * Not counting people who truly advocate totalitarian systems, of course
  • Re:Free speech? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JDevers ( 83155 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:34PM (#9678191)
    Well, I would say that Howard's playing of the audio portion of an Oprah Winfrey show getting massively "bleeped" when she wasn't censored originally in any way would qualify as politically motivated censorship.
  • Another reason why (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ruprecht the Monkeyb ( 680597 ) * on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:36PM (#9678214)
    Another reason why the government shouldn't be involved in the arts. PBS subsidies this year were $380 million, not counting the free use of public airwaves. In exchange for this, they are expected to adhere to the same standards as broadcast network television. Where's the controversy? Would Dreyfus and the rest be out there whining if ABC told them to cut out the profanity? This isn't any different.

    The fact is that anyone using public funds is (and should be) accountable to the government and held to stricter standards. If you find those standards unacceptable, don't accept the funding or the other freebies. And if you as an individual feel that the FCC is exceeding its bounds, feel free to express your displeasure in any of the many ways provided to you. Better yet, tell the government to stop wasting your money funding unwatched television stations and artists whose only visible talent is shock-mongering and obtaining NEA grants.
  • Neo-Victorians (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hamsterboy ( 218246 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:39PM (#9678280)
    Neal Stephenson made a great point about this in "The Diamond Age." In his fictional world, moral relativism progressed to the point that hypocrisy was the only sin you could call someone on, and to be inconsistent was to invite ridicule. So the only safe bet (as a politician) was to have no moral code at all. Contradicting yourself isn't a sin; it's natural, especially in the case of an entire administration, which is made of thousands of people.

    Someone here on /. also made a good point in the discussion on the use of torture in wartime. (S)he said something to the effect of "Just because what we're doing isn't as bad as what they're doing doesn't make it OK; it makes both sides wrong." What Cheney said, whether Leahey deserved it or not, was inappropriate, and he's paying for it. Whether Kerry was right or not about postwar planning in Iraq, he's paying for it.

    It's also germane to note that Mr. Limbaugh is NOT part of the Bush administration, so taking his views as though Bush said them is a mistake. You could say the same about Kerry and Al Franken. He's a bit of a nutjob, and everyone knows it.

  • Re:Here we go .... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CommieLib ( 468883 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:39PM (#9678282) Homepage
    I'm saying that sexuality is a very complicated and delicate thing that has consequences that are difficult to manage. It's better to be wiser before entering into the subject.

    But we can't deal with sexuality like adults because we're so hung up on appearing to be liberated. Who wants to appear to be repressed? The second you mention that maybe having having anal sex broadcast twenty four hours a day in Times Square is a bad idea, you're tarred as if you've just proposed mandatory ankle length bathing suits.

    To put it smartly, we have a culture which pressures the sixteen year old boy to have sex in the backseat rather than hang on a few years until he has some vague chances of dealing with it in a capable way.
  • by Xlipse ( 669697 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:39PM (#9678286)
    Yeah and this country is also supposed to "separate church and state", meaning the government stays the FUCK (you like that?) out of MY business when it comes to anything regarding religion. You CANNOT deny that W. is a religious zealot, and if you do, I'll reference two dozen speeches and television spots that prove it; just in the last year. Bush wants nothing more than for everyone to picture America as the ideal Christian civilization. This is the 21st century, not 1776. Things change and we either evolve as a country or we dissapear. I agree that porn is demeaning to women (most porn) but it's my "god given" RIGHT as an AMERICAN to CHOOSE to watch and or partake in something like pornography. No one forces these women to do it and no one forces you to watch it. You do realize that nearly all woman porno stars either do it for the pleasure or for the money, right? No one in the porn industry is forced to do anything, otherwise it'd be illegal. In my honest opinion, organized religion (Christianity, Judism, Islam, etc) is for the weak, naive and stupid. Religion causes war, that's a proven fact. Middle Eastern Muslims hate Christians. They have for centuries. Not to mention the Elephants and the jack-asses have turned this country upside down, but that's another argument for another time. No one has any right to tell me how to live my recreational life. No one has any right to tell me I can't say "Hey, you.. religious person.. go fuck yourself and I hope you burn in 'hell'"! If you don't like it, move to China. Being American in the 21st century is about CHOICE. Don't force feed me any of your bullshit because you're a weak minded individual who's been brain washed by the religious right. Decency is in the eye of the beholder, not the government or religious fanatics who hold governmental powers and make laws. Don't try to protect me from myself, I don't need it, nor want it.
  • by idiotnot ( 302133 ) <> on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:50PM (#9678440) Homepage Journal
    And commissioners' terms strech across administrations. There are still Clinton-appointed commissioners on the FCC.

    The FCC is not a tool of the executive branch, rather, it is an independent regulatory agency.

  • Re:Free speech? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the_mad_poster ( 640772 ) <> on Monday July 12, 2004 @03:51PM (#9678474) Homepage Journal

    First of all, you're wrong about speech in public. The courts have ruled that emotive language, while potentially offensive, is protected speech. The trick is generally in how it's used. For example, slinging vulgarities at someone as an insult isn't going to endear you to the court. However, if you are using it in an emotive way to actually make a point, you've got a pretty good shot at "protected" status for your speech.

    Also, one significant point that the courts made when ruling on the broadcasting angle, was that it was possible for broadcasters to burst in unexpectadly with "vulgar" or "offensive" statements that could surprise unwary listeners (the Super Bowl non-incident is a prime example). My question, then, is this: how does that apply to someone like Howard Stern? His broadcast is regularly syndicated at a specific time of day on specific stations. You must actively tune to those stations in order to hear him. Therefore, on what grounds does the FCC base persecution on Stern or similar DJs and media figures when the contents of their show are publicly known to be vulgar, and the contents are confined to specific times and stations?

  • Re:Here we go .... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SpaceLifeForm ( 228190 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:02PM (#9678647)
    And they want more profit. See the conspiracy to keep the puppet in office. []
  • Re:Here we go .... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tcopeland ( 32225 ) <> on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:03PM (#9678663) Homepage
    > [slippery slope]

    Right, there's a slippery slope. There's definitely room for discussion. My post was intended to counterbalance what I felt was the OP's unnecessary panic.

    > there never is.

    Right, Fleischer found Maher's comment tasteless and was condemning it.

    > United States is dedicated to being
    > the most open and most free society
    > ever created.

    Hm.... is it? What does that mean?

    > we can get away with a barely passing
    > grade on free expression

    Given the daily "I hate Bush, America is evil" content of the editorial pages of the NYTime and the Washington Post, I don't think we're in danger there.
  • by rczik ( 254081 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:07PM (#9678710)
    So, let me see if I understand this. It's acceptable and appropriate for the Vice President of the United States to hurl profanities against a United States Senator on the floor of the United States Senate (not in session) but it's not acceptable or appropriate for an actor playing a United States Police Officer to do the same on a PBS TV show.

    I fail to see the logic of that.

  • pay close attention (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SethJohnson ( 112166 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:14PM (#9678798) Homepage Journal

    A child can walk into a school library and check out a book containing the words you mention. The child can read the book aloud on a street corner with a megaphone. The child may print the words from the book on a poster and hang it on the side of a building. The child may make t-shirts and bumper stickers containing the words in the book and display these items in public. The local newspaper can even print a book review written by the child that quotes these words from the book. But if the child visits a radio or tv station and reads the book over the air, the FCC will fine the broadcaster a sum of
    possibly $275,000 []. Do you not see the draconian perception our government has of the broadcast media?

    Mr Dreyfuss could probably pay these fines and call it the cost of doing business

    Please note that the legislation pending intends to increase fines for broadcasters to $275,000 per violation of the indecency law. How many PBS stations are there? Can Dreyfus really afford that? I ask because I don't know how much money he has left from Jaws [].
  • Re:Free speech? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jane_Dozey ( 759010 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:14PM (#9678807)
    No, not *anything*. Anything that incites unlawful behaviour (such as snuff movies) shouldn't be allowed. People actively get hurt, without their consent, in the making of such material. Also, having some sort of watershed system is a good idea. Sure, broadcast offensive material when the kids should be in bed (say...8 or 9?), then it's the parents fault for letting them stay up and watch these "bad things".
  • by rjrjr ( 28310 ) <rjrjr&pobox,com> on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:27PM (#9678989) Homepage
    No, sorry, you're wrong. The semi-naked Drusilla hanging in chains in episode 9 of I, Claudius was not a figure in a documentary. The topless DeDe Day in Tales of the City was not a figure in a documentary. To name the first two that pop to mind.
  • "e" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Homburg ( 213427 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:32PM (#9679062) Homepage
    The apostrophe in possesives replaces the letter 'e'. Back in the day, English, like Latin and German, has a system of 'cases', changed word endings used to denote different uses of words. The genetive (possesive) ending was 'es'. At some point, we stopped using cases, but we still needed a way to denote the possesive, and the apostrophe-s was born.
  • Re:Here we go .... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by doodlelogic ( 773522 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:33PM (#9679086)
    Also interesting from the updated survey is the division of the separate rankings given to the United States for press freedom on American territory and in relation to Iraq.

    A similar division is made in the updated table applying to Israel (1967 borders) and the Occupied Territories: in both cases the 'carving out' of these countries anti-journalist actions abroad has flattered their headline position.
  • Re:FUD (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jason Hood ( 721277 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:38PM (#9679150)

    So let's not allow TV to show that

    That would be fine by me. Any of the areas that you or I listed if censored, wouldnt bother me. The benefits outweigh the possible ramifications. That is what is nice about democracy, you and I can both vote. Dont like democracy? Move to China or Cuba. Want to change things here? Than at least find out why the other side believes what they do. Otherwise you will never convince anyone. =)

    I realize that I posted this at one of the DNCs main hangouts. I simply want to express my opinions on the matter and see if there would be any logical discussion. I know that this makes me "dumb" here but believe it or not, not everyone thinks the same way you do.

  • by SethJohnson ( 112166 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:39PM (#9679159) Homepage Journal

    kids could buy TVs from thrift stores for $2.00.

    And a kid can go to the public library and check out a book featuring every four letter combination imaginable for free. But the govt. still hasn't implemented the library version of the FCC for some reason. Perhaps that's part of Patriot Act II: The Clampdown.
  • by SethJohnson ( 112166 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:48PM (#9679298) Homepage Journal

    You claim that the govt. deserves to have control over the public airwaves. Well, the govt. owns the public libraries operated in every city in this country. For some reason, though, the government does not apply FCC restrictions to the content of the books it buys to fill these libraries.

    At some point, our society decided that books=art and regulating the content of the printed page is censorship. Dreyfuss is pushing for his medium (public television) to also qualify as art.
  • Re:Here we go .... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drakaan ( 688386 ) on Monday July 12, 2004 @04:49PM (#9679301) Homepage Journal
    You are a fortunate non-member of the sheeple population, then (the liberal sheeple, not the conservative sheeple, just to be clear). A lot of people wouldn't bother with that thought, they'd just say something rude and comment on America being an imperialist power.

    But back to censorship, two of the original infamous "seven" dirty words, the phrase "blow job", and the FCC...

    What it comes down to (and this has been batted around so many times that I'm not sure why this latest PBS concession is news), is that public broadcasting stations have different standards that they have to adhere to than private (cable, scrambled satellite) broadcasters do. There are 2 main reasons for it: anybody can watch/listen, and no two communities have quite the same standards for what constitutes indecency as far as speech is concerned.

    The reason that the FCC came out with the guidelines that they just about never have to enforce is so people in the more modest of these communities can watch television or listen to the radio during a certain timeframe without having to worry too much about seeing something that they might find offensive. Later at night (when most kids are sleeping), the rules relax, and there have been a number of similar concessions made over the years that have slowly allowed what would traditionally be considered risqe' words, apparel, or behavior to show up on public broadcasts.

    It seems to fly in the face of the first amendment, but it is a long standing concession to the problems that decency standards and country-wide media programming have when they butt heads. I personally have no problem with the fact that boobs or other body parts may show up on TV, but I'd rather know about it ahead of time...that's me. I also have no particular problem with swear words (and the phrase "blow job"...whoever bleeped that one was a plain and simple asshat) on TV, although, again, advance warning would be nice. The system is there to protect those at the lower end of the tolerance-for-what-they-call-indecency spectrum. Yes, they can turn it off, or turn the channel, but should they *expect* to see some boobie with their superbowl? I know I didn't.

    The reason I would like advance warning is that I consider the words to be a bit too rude to use in the company of people you don't know, and I don't want my kids to inadvertently see that happen. I'd like the opportunity to have them not watch that content until they're a bit older and a little more socially aware (probably 7 or so), and can actually discuss the words with me.

    Some people think that's silly and uneccesary, and that's okay. Some people think it's too lax and irresponsible, and that's okay, too. Us disagreeing is fine with me.

    So, since the f-word and the s-word are traditionally not heard on the airwaves (for various reasons), why is there so much commotion over the bleeping?

  • If you think the Bush Adminstration is bad, do you really think Gore/Lieberman (two major advocates of censorship) would have been any better?

    Hell yes! For starters, Michael Powell wouldn't be chair of the FCC. Name one thing that organization has done right under his tutelage.

    I thought so.

    Gore and Lieberman have been advocates of policies like labelling CDs which contain graphic, violent, or offensive content. And yes, I think that's bullshit, too. There is, however, a difference between giving something a scarlet letter versus burning it at the stake.

    Instead what we have is a ridiculous, faith-based, ideological swing at the first amendment to the Constitution, which says, to paraphrase, with judicial review in play, that unless what you're saying is patently offensive or in some way endangers others, you can say whatever you want to say.

    Now, we have the FCC running around pointing shotguns at all the broadcasters everywhere who are having a hard enough time just trying not to suck rocks, and now we have to worry about crap like this. It's not legislation, it's a balls-out threat. And all it will do is make folks like Clear Channel even more powerful because they can *afford* to pay fines. One little fuckup and a station the size of the one I work at is gone. My job has been explicitly threatened in memoranda on more than one occasion since this shit's gone down, and it's crazy. The memos basically say if the station is fined, you're fired, and the station won't send their lawyers to defend you against a personal fine should the FCC levee one (because, obviously, you've just been fired, so T.S.).

The absent ones are always at fault.