Ken Burns’s upcoming PBS documentary “The War,” which has weathered complaints from Latinos about their World War II contributions being represented, is now prompting responses from another group: managers of public TV stations.
The stations are concerned that four words of profanity in the 14 1/2 -hour documentary could subject them to hefty indecency fines from the Federal Communications Commission. Their worries have prompted Arlington-based PBS to take the unprecedented step of distributing two versions of “The War” for broadcast next month: Burns’s original film and an FCC-friendly version from which the profanity has been removed.
Several stations, including WETA in Arlington and Maryland Public Television, say they will air both versions. WETA and MPT will carry the unedited “War” when the documentary begins its multi-night run during prime-time hours Sept. 23, and will switch to the “bleeped” version when they rebroadcast it during daytime hours the following weekend.
WHUT, operated by Howard University, will carried the scrubbed version only, a spokeswoman said.
WETA’s decision is particularly notable given that the station is a co-producer of Burns’s work. WETA and MPT offer the same rationale: Because children are more likely to be watching the film over the weekend, broadcasting “The War” with its profanities removed will respect community sensibilities and avert potential problems with the FCC.
“It’s the world we live in right now,” said Joe Bruns, WETA’s chief operating officer. “My own view is that with the landscape of a 14-hour film about World War II, and given the overall obscenity of war, four words are not particularly shocking — especially given the fact that these are words used routinely at that time. But [nowadays], we have to exercise an abundance of caution.”
The profanity could subject a station to a $325,000 indecency fine if broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
[Via Washington Post]