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Silencing Private Ryan

Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
By Brett Berry
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 15, 2004
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So, Thursday was Veterans Day, and Americans across the country used the day off to honor those who have served to protect our freedoms. With our troops currently off fighting a war halfway around the world, it is especially important to be reminded of what our soldiers face when we send them into battle. It's good for all of us to be reminded of the horrors of war and of the sacrifices that our soldiers make.

On this day to honor and remember our soldiers, the ABC television network decided that it wanted to do what it had done to commemorate Veterans Day in previous years: air the epic World War II movie "Saving Private Ryan" in its unedited form on its affiliates. What better way is there for ABC to remind its viewers of the sacrifices our troops have made in order to ensure that our freedoms as Americans remain in tact?

Brett Berry

Sadly, in this post-Nipplegate world, our freedoms are not as guaranteed as they once were. Despite having aired "Saving Private Ryan" in its uncensored form on multiple occasions before, the fear of costly repercussions from the Federal Communications Commission prompted ABC affiliates across the country to pre-empt the movie with less-objectionable programming.

That's right, 66 of the 225 ABC affiliates across the country chose not to air the movie, with its graphic violence and language, for fear of the proverbial smackdown from the FCC.

The movie had been aired unedited in both 2001 and 2002, but that was before Janet Jackson's breast made its unexpected grand entrance at the Super Bowl halftime show. Now, every television station across the country is terrified of angering any viewers with anything that could be considered obscene, lest they face some seriously stiff fines.

You may be thinking if airing "Saving Private Ryan" was going to be considered offensive and subject to a fine, then why couldn't the network and the stations just ask the FCC if airing it uncensored would be OK?

Well, many stations tried doing just that. They called the FCC to make sure that it would be OK to air the movie. However, the FCC would not respond. As Janice Wise, spokeswoman for the agency said, the FCC is barred from making a decision before something is broadcast because "that would be censorship."

Excuse me, but any time someone is afraid of saying or airing something, that is censorship. Any time television stations across the country voluntarily censor themselves for fear of the financial repercussions from airing a movie that they had already aired before in previous years, that is censorship.

The FCC doesn't need to literally be out there silencing anyone in order to censor the material that is broadcast in our country - the fear of the steep fines is enough to make those in the media censor themselves. And while that may not be censorship in the harshest sense of the word, it is at best, a form of "censorship lite."

Beyond the question of censorship, this "Saving Private Ryan" fiasco is disheartening for another reason. For most Americans, war is something that we consider terrible, but it is also something that is distant from us. Most of us have experienced nothing of war outside of the sanitized war coverage we see on the news. We have not lived in a war zone, nor have we been handed a rifle and told to march into battle.

That is why it is important for those of us who have not experienced these things to try and understand them as best we can. This movie, with its graphic and realistic portrayal of war, is at least a start. Does the movie contain plenty of violence and vulgar language? Yes. But it is, in fact, the graphic nature of the film that makes it such an accurate portrayal of war - and that's why it is important for us to watch it in its unedited form.

When television stations are afraid to air this film as a way to honor and commemorate our soldiers on Veterans Day, it is a sad day for America. After all, our troops have fought and died to preserve our freedoms, and it is right to remember and honor their sacrifices. But today it seems that some of the freedoms they fought to protect aren't so absolute.

Brett Berry is a regional development senior. He can be reached at

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