Sunday, February 20, 2005

Frontline to air episode on war in Iraq with expletives

The following is Frontline's (one of my new favorite shows...which means its one of the two or three shows I watch during a given week) description of this week's episode (via e-mail) just minutes ago:
- This Week: "A Company of Soldiers" (90 min.),
Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 9pm on PBS (check local listings)
- Inside FRONTLINE: This film's special problem
- Live Discussion: Chat with co-producer Edward Jarvis this Wed. at 11am
+ This week
This Tuesday we bring you a glimpse into what the war in Iraq is really like for the average soldier. Producer Tom Roberts and his three-member team embedded with Dog Company, the 1st Battalion of the Army's 8th Calvary Regiment stationed in South Baghdad. Over 30 days and 26 missions in November 2004 they followed a small group of the young men of Dog Company on missions where they were often in combat, and always in danger. Roberts told us that he took away from the experience some things that he had not expected:
"I think there were three things. First, the intellectual and operational model the U.S. was using was far more sophisticated and far more based upon the complex reality of Iraq than what one was led to believe by watching the news or reading newspapers.
The second thing was that stories about low American morale just didn't stand up to the test of reality. Time and time again the soldiers were positive, cheery and realistic. They are not full of, if you will, star-spangled patriotism. They are quite realistic about what they're doing, quite determined, with a clear sense of mission.
The third unexpected thing I came away with is a bigger sense of the mess and chaos in Iraq than I thought there would be. One has a sense, sitting here, that there's a counter-insurgency or guerrilla war taking place. In fact, there are many layers of conflict within the society and a lot of them don't involve insurgency."
We hope you will watch "A Company of Soldiers." And we want to call your attention to a special problem that FRONTLINE confronted with this film.
As you might expect, the soldiers' language is sprinkled with expletives, especially at moments of greatest fear and stress. As we edited the program, we were judicious, but came to believe that some of that language was an integral part of our journalistic mission: to give viewers a realistic portrait of our soldiers at war. We feel strongly that the language of war should not be sanitized and that there is nothing 'indecent' about its use in this context.
PBS stations were given the option of airing an edited or unedited version based on their own community standards. Broadcasting the unedited version carries some risk that the FCC would entertain complaints and levy a fine. Each public television station had to decide for itself whether to take that risk.
FRONTLINE does not believe the expletives used by the soldiers violate the FCC's 'indecency' rule. They are not used in a "gratuitous" manner nor are they meant to "titillate" or "pander" - the terms the FCC uses to determine if there has been a violation. You may be familiar with the recent case of ABC's broadcast of the movie "Saving Private Ryan," which contained repeated instances of strong language, used in the same context as this FRONTLINE. It was widely reported that a majority of the FCC commissioners decided they would not support viewer complaints about the language in "Saving Private Ryan," and outgoing Chairman Michael Powell concluded that the agency should not take action against the ABC stations that aired it because the language was part of accurately portraying the story about the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II.
FRONTLINE thanks those stations who are willing to broadcast the unedited version, but recognizes the difficulty any station would have in deciding to take a risk that might result in a penalty. We encouraged all stations that could do so to stand with FRONTLINE because we believe what is at stake here is not only the particulars of this case, but the principle of editorial independence. We believe that overreaching by the FCC is at its heart a First Amendment issue. We think that the editorial integrity of future FRONTLINES is at risk along with many other types of programs, whether art, science, history, culture, or public affairs. Editorial decisions should be free from influence by the government and should be made in accordance with the standards, practices, and mission of public television. We hope you agree.
We hope you will join us for "A Company of Soldiers." Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 9pm on PBS (check local listings) And after watching, explore our web site where you have the opportunity to express your opinion about the program and the issues it raises, at
Louis Wiley
Executive Editor


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