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


    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.

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