CBS Happily Engages In Censorship To Placate China

from the streisand-effect-supercombo dept

CBS isn't exactly known for making coherent decisions. You'll probably recall the company sued Dish Network for simply developing DVR ad-skipping technology consumers asked for. It then went so far as to ban its subsidiary CNET from giving Dish an innovation award for the technology at CES. There was also that time the company sued the public domain for simply existing, or those numerous times it obnoxiously hassled Star Trek fans for their fan service.

But this week the company did something exceptionally idiotic, even for CBS. Over at the company's CBS All Access streaming video service, some of the company's TV shows have taken some additional liberties traditionally restricted on broadcast television. Characters on its "Star Trek: Discovery" spin off, for example, now occasionally say "fuck." And its show "The Good Fight," a spin off of its broadcast show "The Good Wife," occasionally takes some more pointed stances politically than its more ambiguously scripted predecessor.

One recent episode featured a 90-second animated musical segment written by Jonathan Coulton, poking fun at Chinese censorship, the country's terrible treatment of dissidents, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, and President Xi Jinping's behavior. CBS's response? To try and completely censor the musical segment:

"...less than two weeks before the episode was going to air, CBS told the Kings to cut the animated sequence. In response, the co-creators threatened to stop writing the show. In a subsequent conversation, the two sides reached what CBS called a “creative solution”: the Kings wouldn’t quit, but CBS would agree to display that placard where the short was meant to go."

After showrunners Robert and Michelle King threatened to quit, CBS backtracked slightly, agreeing to run an 8-second blackout simply stating that "cbs has censored this content" without really explaining why to the viewer. And while CBS has appeared to try and suggest it was concerned about the safety of its employees in China, a just as likely motivation is CBS executives didn't want to lose money by upsetting the Chinese government. Coulton, for his part, told the NY Times he found the whole saga disappointing but ironic:

"Mr. Coulton said he bore no ill will toward CBS, understanding that as a large multinational corporation, it had some “tough choices to make.” Still, the whole situation is the “definition of irony,” he said.

“The song ends with me saying, ‘I hope this song is banned in China,’ ” Mr. Coulton said. “Now it’ll never get the chance."

As any dedicated Mike Masnick fan knows, the censorship will only ensure that the musical segment sees much broader circulation. After all, the segment originally would have appeared only on CBS All Access, a streaming service with a fairly limited reach by television standards. But the decision to censor the segment now ensures it's likely to be a viral hit once it's inevitably released online and circulated by folks simply wondering what all the fuss is about.

Filed Under: cbs all access, censorship, china, jonathan coulton, the good fight
Companies: cbs


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  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 8:19am

    CBS allowing some profanity? ??? What's next, Stephen Colbert can stop just inferring that #45 is an asshole, but actually say it directly? That'd be a welcome switch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 11:52am

      Re:

      CBS allowing some profanity?

      On its streaming service. Not broadcast TV.

      What's next, Stephen Colbert can stop just inferring that #45 is an asshole, but actually say it directly?

      I believe you mean implying.

      And Colbert is on broadcast TV, so he's not affected by CBS's policy for its streaming shows.

      As The Late Show runs post-watershed, it is likely that Colbert could use words like "asshole" without being subject to FCC fine. CBS's choice to bleep profanity is a matter of network policy, probably not a legal requirement, but as far as I know it has not relaxed that policy for its broadcast shows.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        sumgai (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 9:23pm

        Re: Re:

        Points taken, except that at various times, SC has either inferred or implied Trump's assholiness, depending on the episode and how the speech pattern was delivered.

        As to the actual "non-censorship" I predicted, I was merely using that as a foible to point out that if CBS is changing one policy, there's no reason we can't hope that other policies might change as well.

        Personally I think that George Carlin got it right, that bit about the Supreme Court decision and the seven dirty words, yadda yadda, etc. But I'm in the vast minority when it comes to using certain parts of the English language as it was intended, so I've gotten used to living with today's Victorian attitudes, and not kicking up too much fuss about it. ;)

        sumgai

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        • icon
          Thad (profile), 10 May 2019 @ 10:16am

          Re: Re: Re:

          As I've noted before, Carlin retired the Seven Words You can Never Say on Television routine after his first HBO special -- in which he was able to say all seven words on television.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Call me Al, 9 May 2019 @ 8:39am

    Perhaps not

    "As any dedicated Mike Masnick fan knows, the censorship will only ensure that the musical segment sees much broader circulation."

    Will that apply in China or will those who may want to watch it worry about their Social Credit rating and so decide against it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2019 @ 9:10am

    Oh, I fully expect rip torrents to appear with the segment re-inserted, as soon as it leaks. Maybe designated "fixed", "proper" or simply "uncensored".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2019 @ 11:19am

    Those shows are not worth the $5.99 a month or whatever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 9 May 2019 @ 11:39am

    George Lucas is going to make China shoot first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zof (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 11:45am

    So?

    CBS happily pretended a russian hoax was real for three years. This isn't remotely surprising or out of character for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 May 2019 @ 2:53pm

    Fine, we'll compromise. I'll get everything, you get nothing

    "...less than two weeks before the episode was going to air, CBS told the Kings to cut the animated sequence. In response, the co-creators threatened to stop writing the show. In a subsequent conversation, the two sides reached what CBS called a “creative solution”: the Kings wouldn’t quit, but CBS would agree to display that placard where the short was meant to go."

    Told to pull it, they threatened to quit. Having the sequence blocked instead, which is indistinguishable to having pulled it, and they stayed on. Way to stick to your guns and make clear that any similar threats in the future can be ignored as you'll just cave with the slightest pressure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Éibhear (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 7:29am

    Maybe, maybe not

    As any dedicated Mike Masnick fan knows, the censorship will only ensure that the musical segment sees much broader circulation.

    My reading of the NY Times story is that the segment was cut from the original before it was broadcast on CBS All Access. It's possible that someone will leak that segment, but it isn't that the segment is being cut from the version that any Chinese audience will see, it's that no audience is to see it. I'm not so sure it will get that "much broader circulation".

    After all, the segment originally would have appeared only on CBS All Access, a streaming service with a fairly limited reach by television standards.

    We in Ireland get to see the show on the main broadcast TV station, RTÉ. It's also syndicated to the UK's Channel 4 station, and no doubt it's also broadcast on other stations, too. RTÉ is about 4-5 weeks behind the CBS All Access schedule. The show isn't all that obscure.

    P.S. I'm a big fan, though the musical segments introduced with season 3 have made it a little farcical.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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