"SANITIZING" THE WAR? Television news producers grappled with the question of how much -- if any -- of the grisly footage of the attacks on Americans in Iraq Wednesday ought to be broadcast. Fox News Channel showed none of it, saying that "it was too graphic in nature to put on our air." CNN showed a brief sequence of burned bodies hanging from the steelwork of a bridge, saying that "some images are necessary to fully illustrate the extent of the violence." CBS Evening Newsanchor Dan Rather indicated that the producers had originally planned to use some of the footage but to warn parents that it would be too disturbing for their children. In the end, he said, he had decided that it was too gruesome even for adults. NBC Nightly Newsproducer Steve Capus told the Associated Press that the footage was "very disturbing. ... It doesn't need to be seen in full in order to convey the horrors of this despicable act." However, ABC's Nightlineshowed some images of the bodies hanging from the bridge, explaining in a message to the program's email subscribers, "If we try to avoid showing pictures of bodies, if we make it too clean, then maybe we make it too easy to go to war again." British television coverage showed images of the bodies hanging from the bridge and also footage of bodies being dragged down a street, with images of the bodies electronically blurred. However, French and Spanish newscasts did not blur the images. From the outset of the war in Iraq, opponents of the U.S. action in Iraq have criticized the news media for presenting "sanitized" images of the war. Some U.S. newspapers and their websites appeared less reluctant to present images of the horror.


FCC Chairman Michael Powell has warned broadcasters to institute a decency code or face the possibility of having one imposed on them by government. "You do not want to ask the government to write a Red Book of dos and don'ts," Powell told told a Washington D.C. seminar, billed as an "indecency summit," mounted by the National Association of Broadcasters. "I understand the complaint about knowing where the line is, but heavier government entanglement through a dirty conduct code will not only chill speech, it may deep-freeze it. It might be an ice age that would last a very long time." Powell also expressed "some reservations" about proposed legislation that would grant the FCC authority to fine performers as much as $500,000 for indecent speech. And Democratic commissioner Michael Copps, who has led the indecency battle on the panel, told the broadcasters, "I think the primary onus has to be on the stations." AFTRA, the broadcast performers' union, has vowed to fight the provision.


Fox's unstoppable American Idolscored a 13.1 rating and a 21 share Wednesday night, helping the network to win the night. While the network's ratings dropped to a 7.5/12 for The O.C.at 9:00 p.m., it was still enough to beat NBC's The West Wing, which pulled a 7.4/12. At 10:00 p.m., NBC's Law & Ordertook over first place with a 12.3/21. (Fox does not produce programming for the 10:00 hour.) Fox averaged an 8.8/14 for the night. NBC took second with an 8.0/13. CBS was in third place with a 6.6/11, while ABC was fourth with a 5.2/9.


Chappell Hartridge, the first member of the Martha Stewart jury to discuss its deliberations on television, initially tried to sell his story to the media, Stewart's lawyers charged Wednesday in court documents seeking a new trial. Lawyers for Stewart also charged that Hartridge, hoping to profit from the trial, had failed to disclose that he had been arrested for assaulting a girlfriend (the charges were dropped), that he had been charged with embezzling money from a Bronx Little League team, and that he had been sued three times.


CBS has canceled its midseason futuristic legal drama Century Cityafter airing only four episodes. The show, starring Viola Davis, Nestor Carbonell, Hector Elizondo and Eric Schaeffer and created by veteran Law & Order writer Ed Zuckerman, had been taking a beating in the ratings. Last Tuesday's episode drew only a 5.3 rating and an 8 share (7.7 million viewers), placing fourth in its 9:00 p.m. time slot.


Virgin's Richard Branson has lined up a deal with Fox TV to star in a new reality series in which the contestants will compete for his approval, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). However, instead of merely growling "You're fired!" at the losers a la Donald Trump, Branson, who operates Virgin Airlines among other businesses, plans to dump each one on an airport tarmac, then fly off with the remaining players for their next assignment.


Peter Mandelson, a close ally of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has become the frontrunner to become the new chairman of the BBC, Britain's Guardiannewspaper reported today (Thursday). Mandelson is a former cabinet secretary for Northern Ireland and spearheaded the building of the Millennium Dome, the $1.3-billion 2000 exhibition structure attacked by critics as the biggest white elephant ever erected. (In 1998 the creative director of the Dome resigned, accusing Mandelson of using dictatorial tactics and saying that he could have created a stunning exhibition and building for $160 million.) A source told the Guardianthat Mandelson was approached by the selection panel after other candidates for the position proved disappointing. They reportedly included veteran news anchor David Dimbleby, former Channel 4 chief Michael Grade, and famed producer-interviewer David Frost.PETER JACKSON RINGS DOWN CURTAIN ON WEBSITELord of the Ringsdirector Peter Jackson has ordered the operators of his "official fan website," The Bastards Have Landed <http://tbhl.theonering.net> to shut it down after objecting to their producing hundreds of t-shirts bearing a cartoon image of Jackson and the inscription "I'm a Bastard." Lewis Davies and Peter Gunter, the operators of the site, on Wednesday posted a copy of a letter allegedly from Jackson in which the director boasts: "Right now, I'm the most famous [New Zealand] export since the lamb! ... I'm the king of the southern hemisphere!! I can't have you lot running around calling me a Bastard!" In the letter Jackson said that he had decided to turn over the operation of his fansite to Harry Knowles, of AintItCoolNews.com fame and to rename it AintPeterJacksonCool.com. In a parting act, Davies and Gunter published a copy of a letter that they claimed they had received from Knowles concluding, "Let's face it, you bastards blew it. I'm sure you see Peter and I [sic] as the Bastards, but... then those in the cheap seats always throw their carmel-coated [sic] peanuts at those of us in the opera boxes. Peter is above insults and name calling, and after this letter so will I. Peter is through with you bastards, and now... so am I."


Apparently satisfied with the results of its decision to present the Oscar ceremonies in February this year rather than in March as in the past, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that the 77th awards ceremony will be held on Feb. 27, 2005. The announcement was undoubtedly welcomed by ABC which will benefit from the fact that the popular broadcast -- it ranks second only to the Super Bowl in attracting an audience each year -- will once again air during the February sweeps. The Academy said that nominating ballots will go out on Dec. 27, 2004 and the nominations will be announced on Jan. 25, 2005.


The state treasurer of Pennsylvania said Wednesday that officials of the Walt Disney company had told her that consultants were to blame for misdirecting the company on several management issues, including whether Michael Eisner should keep his position as chairman. The state's Public School Employees' Retirement System and State Employee's Retirement System together hold 2.75 million shares in Disney valued at $69.3 million, based on Disney's current share price. Treasurer Barbara Hafer told the Philadelphia Inquirerthat she told Disney representatives, "You're telling me, as a shareholder, you spent a lot of money and you're blaming these people who gave you bad advice. ... That's the lamest excuse I've ever heard." Hafer said that she had sent a letter to Eisner saying that the meeting "did not succeed in relieving all of my concerns and, in fact, heightened them in some areas." Asked about Hafer's remarks, Disney lobbyist Preston Padden, who met with her, responded: ""We had a great meeting with Treasurer Hafer. We like her very much, and we look forward to working with her in the future."


Disney's Home on the Range, set to debut on Friday, may become the last hand-drawn animated feature the company will ever produce, Disney studio chief Dick Cook said in an interview with Reuters. Cook told the wire service that most of the industry has embraced computer animation, adding, "It is where things are going." But animator Mark Pudleiner, who worked on Range, maintained in a separate interview that it is not the technique that is to blame for the studio's inability to produce successful hand-drawn features. "There is such an aim for the bottom line and so much census-taking and poll-taking that the stories get diluted," he said.


Wolfgang Petersen's Troy,starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom, is expected to be screened for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival on May 13th, the second day of the festival, Daily Varietyreported today (Thursday). The trade publication observed that the 57th edition of the festival is likely to be a showcase for several major Hollywood releases. It had previously been announced that De-lovely, the musical biography of composer Cole Porter directed by Irwin Winkler, will close the festival after the award ceremony on May 22.


In a major setback to record companies and film studios attempting to halt file sharing operations on the Internet, a Canadian judge ruled Wednesday that downloading music online and sharing it with others does not violate Canadian law. The ruling by Judge Konrad von Finckenstein came in a case brought by several record companies that had demanded that Internet Service Providers identify customers in Canada who had allegedly offered more than 1,000 songs on file-sharing networks.