The FCC lost a big battle yesterday in its Fight To Eliminate The First Amendment when a court ruled that NBC shouldn’t be fined for Bono dropping the F-bomb on a live broadcast. Yea! Now if we could only get some nipples on broadcast TV, then life would really be great.
[Also, this reminds me of one enjoyable part of Studio Sixty, where the network president decided to go to war over a live news broadcast where a soldier cursed when a bomb went off. And you thought that brave network presidents were fictional. And that Studio Sixty was not good. And, frankly, you would be right on both counts.]
Wherever Bono is today (Preparing to tout his fight against AIDS and third-world debt on Wednesday’s Nightline? Getting started on the new U2 album? Polishing up a tune for that Spider-Man musical?), I bet he’s smiling. I certainly know I’m wearing a broad grin after reading this morning that a federal appeals panel has struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s policy of punishing television networks when they broadcast “fleeting expletives” — a policy which began after NBC showed Bono (pictured) using the phrase “f—ing brilliant” onstage at the 2003 Golden Globes. (NBC wasn’t fined for that incident, since it predated the new rule, but laws passed two years ago by Congress meant that the commission could smack networks with a massive $325,000 penalty for each use of an “indecent” word.) The judges found that the FCC had “fail[ed] to provide a reasoned analysis justifying” this harsh new stance, adding that they “question whether the FCC’s indecency test can survive First Amendment scrutiny.” For me, at least, this amounts to stating the staggeringly obvious; the FCC’s constitutional authority to censor artists’ expression based on its own arbitrary notions of “decency” is highly dubious at best.
But this is also great news from the perspective of a pop-culture enthusiast, whatever your politics. Live awards-show broadcasts like the one that got Bono in trouble are boring enough as it is; the last thing we need is a capricious federal agency standing guard against split-second bursts of impolite language. Truth is, people who are mortally afraid of hearing what the FCC maturely referred to as “the F-word” should probably avoid watching live TV altogether. After all, there’s always the chance that someone might say something untoward or uncomfortable, even with punitive fines in place — hey, even if they don’t use taboo words. For the rest of us, that risk adds to the thrill of watching a live broadcast. Have you ever heard someone complain because an awards show had too many surprises? . . .
Something tells me the FCC commissioners aren’t big Sopranos watchers, though. The commission’s chairman, Kevin J. Martin, bemoaned yesterday’s ruling in the New York Times: “He said that if the agency was unable to prohibit some vulgarities during prime time, ‘Hollywood will be able to say anything they want, whenever they want.'” Oh goodness, no! Martin apparently meant to convey a vision of some nightmarish dystopia. To me, it sounds more like a TV viewer’s paradise. . . .
I am off for vacay in stinky Italia, so TTFN, my IAYM readers.