WMUR won’t air ‘Saving Private Ryan’

NEW YORK (AP) – More than 20 ABC affiliates around the country, including WMUR-TV of Manchester, N.H., have announced that they won’t take part in the network’s Veterans Day airing of “Saving Private Ryan,” saying the acclaimed film’s violence and language could draw sanctions from the Federal Communications Commission.

The decisions mark a twist in the conflict over the aggressive stand the FCC has taken against obscenity and profanity since Janet Jackson flashed the world during the last Super Bowl halftime show.

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie aired on ABC with relatively little controversy in 2001 and 2002, but station owners – including several in large markets – are unnerved that airing it Thursday could bring federal punishment. The film includes a violent depiction of the D-Day invasion and profanity.

“It would clearly have been our preference to run the movie. We think it’s a patriotic, artistic tribute to our fighting forces,” Ray Cole, president of Citadel Communications, told AP Radio. The company owns three ABC affiliates in the Midwest.

Other stations choosing to replace the movie with other programming are located in Atlanta, Dallas, Honolulu, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Orlando, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. They are owned by a variety of companies, including Cox Television, Tribune Broadcasting Corp., Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., Belo Corp. and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

“We regret that the FCC, given its current timidity in dealing in this area, would not grant an advance waiver, which would have allowed stations like ours to run it without any question or any concern,” Cole said.

In a statement on WSB-TV’s Web site, the Atlanta station’s vice president and general manager, Greg Stone, cited a March ruling in which the FCC said an expletive uttered by rock star Bono during NBC’s live airing of the 2003 Golden Globe Awards was both indecent and profane.

The agency made it clear then that virtually any use of the F-word – which is used repeatedly in “Saving Private Ryan” – was inappropriate for over-the-air radio and television.

The Bono case “reversed years of prior policy that the context of language matters,” Stone said. He added that broadcasters could not get any clarification from the FCC on whether the movie violates the standard.

ABC, which broadcast the film uncut in 2001 and 2002, issued a statement saying it is proud to broadcast it again. The network’s contract with director Spielberg stipulates that the film cannot be edited.

“As in the past, this broadcast will contain appropriate and clear advisories and parental guidelines,” the statement said.