PBS backs court's ruling on FCC policy

Broadcaster is 'in discussions' to keep KCET in the family

Public broadcasters are breathing easier since a U.S. Court of Appeals last month rejected FCC regulations on fleeting expletives, said Paula Kerger, PBS pres and CEO.

The court ruled that the FCC policy was unconstitutional because it was too vague. The opinion noted that the federal agency approved the f-word and the s-word in the broadcast of the film "Saving Private Ryan" but issued a fine for the same words in a PBS documentary, "The Blues."

TCA 2010  
"This gives us a lot more clarity," Kerger said Wednesday, immediately after meeting with TV journalists at the TCA press tour in Beverly Hills. PBS spent a lot of time worrying about what would be safe to broadcast because "the consequences (of a penalty) could have been catastrophic."

Kerger said the former FCC policy had its greatest impact on the "Frontline" news documentary series as well as such critically praised documentary series as "The Blues" and Ken Burns' "The War." The ultimate decision on whether or not to bleep is still left with individual stations but PBS now faces less pressure to alter the integrity of the programs. As in the past, programs with language issues carry viewer advisories.

The PBS honcho also dampened reports that KCET, the Los Angeles public TV station, might declare its independence from PBS because of the dues it is assessed by the national service. "We are in discussions with KCET," Kerger reported. The station has been a part of the PBS family for 40 years "and we hope to work with them another 40 years."

Kerger also announced the launch of a new PBS website devoted to the arts, starting Aug. 23. The new site, accessible through pbs.org, is part of a larger effort to distribute content for adults and kids on multiple platforms.

Among the highlights on the new site will be a virtual exhibit tied to the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. "We invite viewers to explore the full range of creative expression," Kerger said.
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