Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter


PBS Controversy: It’s About More Than a Few Curse Words

posted by abigail malik

Those of us who watch public television are fully aware of what a refreshing alternative it is to the mindless programming on most networks. Unfortunately, the federal government is making it harder for public broadcasting to continue doing its job. Most recently, PBS has expressed concern that it could face fines if it does not tone down/bleep/pixilate what the FCC considers inappropriate language, especially in an upcoming Ken Burns documentary about World War II. The fear of having to fork over to the FCC thousands of dollars that would otherwise be put toward worthwhile causes is forcing PBS and producers to self-edit, an act that will eventually compromise the quality of public television programming.

With all due respect to my fellow Idol Chatterer, Doug, this argument isn’t as simple as “PBS wants to cuss.” Those advocating the implementation of fines do not understand what the airing of these shows means for public education and awareness. Where else on television–where else anywhere–can you find an in-depth look at young men growing up in an impoverished Eastern Kentucky town; a non-biased examination of the AIDS pandemic; and a brutally honest portrayal of America-wide methamphetamine abuse?

These are serious topics, developed into shows for intelligent and inquisitive adults. Viewers are forewarned if a program contains mature content, and parents need to act accordingly if they do not want their children to watch. In fact, children should not be exposed to these programs at all. PBS stations carry daytime and evening programming. Children’s programming is aired during morning hours, while adult programming–news shows, documentaries, interviews–are aired at night.

We all have a right to choose what we listen to, read, and watch. The important aspect to focus on is that a choice clearly exists. The FCC is trying to take away that choice by forcing producers to create and viewers to watch watered-down versions of otherwise truthful and blunt portrayals.

PBS has always been a reliable source for airing the true essence of reality programming. In reality, people curse. And not because it seems like a cool thing to do or because they saw someone else do it. They curse because they have been in jail for years and are growing desperate. Or because they were caught in a cross-fire during battle and it was the first word to pop out of their mouths.

These are realities, and if PBS is being scared into not portraying these as they always have, then the FCC is doing a disservice to us all. If viewer dedication and respect could keep public television afloat, PBS would be around forever. Unfortunately the FCC, in a somewhat cowardly move, is punishing PBS by taking away what it needs most to survive. To me, this, not cursing, is something we should find offensive and vulgar.



  • James Schwab

    Right On!!!I Could not have said it better myself. Find yourself in a very tight situation……say a car coming at you on the wrong side of the highway you might want to say, “Gee Wally, Dad’s going to be mad now”…..B.S…I’m a Christian, but scare me and you mightnot know it…>

  • Jonie Sexton

    I totally agree!! I think that vulgarity and curse words have a place and time and help to accentuate a point. Using these ‘helpers’ in our vocabulary puts emotion and allows the reader/viewer to FEEL the intensity. I think that it is rediculous that PBS is being scrutinized in such a manner when there are much worse things on television for children, such as sexual innuendos in pre-teen shows. I am constantly having to monitor the shows that my 9 year old daughter watches on Nick and Disney due to these remarks and implications. Keep the feeling in the works…keep the vulgarity if that is what it takes to prove the point!>

  • Tiffany Jones

    Ms. Malik, you hit the nail on the head. We as Americans have choices and how are we to make that choice if we are not given the option. I work in radio and know first hand how the FCC can dictate what we put out over the air. Keep your head up and your voice strong. I look forward to reading your future articles.>

  • Bryan Wittman

    Malik is dead wrong. Proof? Just view some of the hundreds of films of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, and even more recently. Would cursing (and gratuitous sex) have enhanced such great motion pictures as Bridge on the River Kwai, Paths of Glory, The African Queen, to name just a few, and more recently, Jurrasic Park, Star Wars and many others? I think not. Would they have been “more effective and meaningful” if they were loaded with the vilest of cursing now prevalent in the majority of today’s pictures passed off as entertainment from Hollywood? Absolutely not. If PBS is supposed to be equated with quality and meaningful programming, then why do they feel the need to pander to audiences, like their Hollywood counterparts? Remember what the P in PBS stands for. The PUBLIC. PBS is merely reacting to the concerns of a certain segment of the PUBLIC who happen to disagree with Ms.Malik’s views, and most liberals, who feel they always possess the correct view, find this offensive and intolerable.>

  • Dustin Adkins

    I don’t believe Ms. Malik is arguing for the inclusion of swear words in PBS programming to pander to America’s love affair with swearing, nor to contribute to the debasement of the modern English language. I don’t curse I generally find foul language to be a sign of weak minds trying to express themselves forcefully. However, I’m not naive enough to think that wars and prisons can be accurately portrayed without the use of swear words. Sometimes the most startling and cogent (change-making?) realities are BLUNT realities. If there is ever an appropriate place for mature languange on television, this is it — provided that it is confined to appropriate hours and preceeded with appropriate warnings.>

  • marian neudel

    Joan of Arc was renowned in her time for making the soldiers whom she led give up their cursing. But she had the right to do it–she faced the same dangers and deprivation that they did. Most of the people decrying the “foul language” of the soldiers in “Flags” and “Saving” have never seen a shot fired in anger.>

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