Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Censorship Is the Sincerest Form of Flattening

I'm always amazed at how the Parents Television Council (PTC) empowers a small portion of the population to act as TV watchdogs. According to this B&C article,
the group [PTC] filed a total of 23,542 complaints in July (10,775 against Fox and 12,767 against ABC).That would account for all but five of the FCC complaints for the month. Let's repeat that. Out of 23,547 complaints in July, PTC claims 23,542.
The PTC is quite proud of their activism, and it keeps a running scoreboard of complaints filed in the last few years. With the threat of potential FCC fines, it's no wonder that some affiliates are weary of showing questionable content.

When a network broadcasts a show, each affiliate has the choice to present that show or something else in its place. That means affiliates can act as regional watchdogs. If your affiliate deems a network show to be indecent, then that affiliate beams another show to your TV.

This practice is not new. Many Southern affiliates refused to air "The Nat King Cole Show" in 1956. And this censoring practice peaked in 1969 when 75 ABC affiliates refused to the second episode of "Turn-On," causing ABC to pull the show from the airwaves.

But now the practice is scary. Since large broadcasting groups own multiple affiliates, some corporations—like the Sinclair Broadcasting Group—can impose its own interests and values on multiple regions without regard to the local public interest. Local program managers in these corporations no longer have the authority to determine whether a show is offensive or not.

Here is a sample of some network shows that at least 10 affiliates refused to air.
  • 75 affiliates: "Turn-On" (2/12/1969, 2nd episode unaired by network)
  • 71 affiliates: "Sticks and Bones" (3/9/1973, unaired by network)
  • 66 affiliates: "Saving Private Ryan" (11/11/2004 broadcast)
  • 58 affiliates: "NYPD Blue" (9/21/1993, Pilot)
  • 39 affiliates: "Maude" (5/1973, rerun of "Maude's Dilemma")
  • 27 affiliates: "Revlon Revue: Tonight with Belafonte" (1960)
  • 22 affiliates: "God, the Devil and Bob" (3/2000, multiple eps)
  • 17 affiliates: "Marcus Welby" (10/8/1974, "The Outrage")
  • 15 affiliates: "ABC News Closeup" (12/18/1979, broadcast on homosexuality)
  • 12 affiliates: "Soap" (9/1977, first two episodes)
  • 12 affilaites: "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" (9/2001)
All six of Sinclair's ABC affils refused to show ''Saving Private Ryan'' even though the PTC announced that it would not submit complaints to the FCC against ABC for airing the movie. In late 2004 NippleGate still imposed significant impact.

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