The Associated Press reported yesterday on the latest battlefront in the broadcast indecency wars: a CBS documentary on 9/11. The film–which has aired before without controversy–has been criticized by some indecency advocates because of bad language used by firefighters as they struggled at the World Trade Center on 9/11. The American Family Alliance, for example, has readied its members to complain to the FCC and CBS. As a result, some two dozen affiliates have announced they will replace or delay broadcast of the piece.
“This is example #1” of the chilling effect of the FCC indecency rules, said Martin Franks, CBS’ executive vice president. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to sanitize the reality of the hell of Sept. 11,” Franks was quoted as saying. “It shows the incredible stress that these heroes were under. To sanitize it in some way robs it of the horror they faced.”
Well said. The simple fact is that some Americans will not be seeing this documentary because of the threat of FCC-imposed liability. Would the FCC actually find the piece indecent? That’s anybody’s guess. But the mere possibility has been enough to cause some stations–rationally enough, given increased fines–to cut and run.
A better example of the folly–and outrage– of government content controls would be hard to find. However well-intentioned, the FCC’s rules blow a clear, cold wind on speech.