Challenge To Indecency Rules

Several media companies, activists and performers are asking the Federal Communications Commission to back off a ruling that fined NBC for broadcasting an event during which Bono used the F-word, a magazine reports.

Broadcasting & Cable magazine says a group of companies including Viacom (which owns CBSNews.com), Fox and RadioOne is joining with activists like People for the American Way and Media Access Project, as well as entertainers like Penn & teller and comedian Margaret Cho to oppose the ruling.

NBC was expected to file a separate petition Monday, the magazine reported.

In March, the FCC overruled its staff and declared that the expletive uttered by Bono on NBC was both indecent and profane. The agency made it clear that virtually any use of the F-word was inappropriate for over-the-air radio and television.

The decision marked the first time that the FCC cited a four-letter word as profane; the commission previously equated profanity with language challenging God's divinity.

The FCC has been under pressure to punish indecency on the airwaves after Janet Jackson bared her breast during a halftime performance at the Super Bowl, which was televised by CBS. As it announced its decision on the F-word last month, the FCC also revealed three indecency fines for radio broadcasts — two against Infinity Broadcasting, including one for a Howard Stern show, and one against a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications.

But the commissioners did not propose a fine for Bono's expletive during the 2003 Golden Globe Awards because, they said, they had never before said that virtually any use of the F-word violated its rules.

Indeed, the commission specifically rejected earlier findings that occasional use of the F-word was acceptable, including a ruling by its enforcement bureau last October that Bono's comment was not indecent or obscene because he did not use the word to describe a sexual act.

"The 'F-word' is one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit descriptions of sexual activity in the English language," the commission said Thursday. "The fact that the use of this word may have been unintentional is irrelevant; it still has the same effect of exposing children to indecent language."

According to the commission's order, "The Commission defines indecent speech as language that, in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium."

The FCC received hundreds of complaints after Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock group U2, said, "This is really, really, f------ brilliant," and FCC Chairman Michael Powell asked his fellow commissioners to overturn the staff decision.

The lawyer who wrote the petition for Viacom and the other opponents of the new rule, Bob Corn-Revere, tells Broadcasting & Cable that the F-word ruling "has sent shock waves through the broadcast industry and is forcing licensees to censor speech that unquestionably is protected by the First Amendment."

NBC aired this year's Golden Globes broadcast on a 10-second delay. ABC did the same with its telecast of the Academy Awards show.

NBC also removed a glimpse of an elderly patient's breast in an episode of the hospital drama ER. Victoria's Secret dropped its nationally televised fashion show this year, at least partly because of criticism following Jackson's breast-baring faux pas.

Clear Channel dropped Howard Stern from its six stations that broadcast his show, and fired Larry Wachs and Eric Von Haessler, also known as 96 Rock's "The Regular Guys," after the company finished its investigation of a March 19 radio skit in which explicit sexual talk was broadcast during a car commercial.