Rock singer Bono used a curse word at the Golden Globes last January, but those stations that aired the remark aren’t guilty of violating decency standards, according to a recent finding by the Federal Communications Commission.
“This is really, really (expletive deleted) brilliant,” said the Irishman, accepting the statuette on behalf of band U2 for best original motion picture song, “The Hands That Built America.”
The FCC denied complaints that Bono’s remark at the awards show violated “federal restrictions regarding the broadcast of obscene and indecent material,” as worded in the FCC’s Memorandum Opinion and Order handed down Oct. 3.
The FCC’s opinion noted that the commission had received 234 complaints against the material, 217 of which stemmed from individuals associated with the Parents Television Council, a media watchdog that encourages viewers to inform the FCC of violations of decency standards.
The FCC noted that it does indeed have the authority to enforce decency standards, but it said the First Amendment mandates that the commission “proceed cautiously and with appropriate restraint” when regulating speech.
Thus, the FCC analyzed whether the front man for rock group U2 engaged in indecent and/or obscene talk.
The FCC’s finding included an explanation of how the commission defines both indecent and obscene speech.
“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 finding read.
Bono’s use of profanity did not fit that definition, the FCC found.
The word in question “may be rude or offensive,” the opinion concluded, but in context did not refer to sexual or excretory activity. Rather, Bono employed it “as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation.”
Bono’s remark didn’t qualify as an obscenity either, the FCC found.
Content must meet three criteria in order to be obscene: it must appeal to “prurient interest”; it must describe sexual conduct; and “the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
The FCC also remarked that simply using certain words does not automatically make content obscene.
Therefore, the hundred or so stations that broadcast the show, including Bono’s remark, were not violating the law, according to the FCC.
The Parents Television Council had urged citizens to file complaints with both the FCC and NBC, which aired the awards show. The PTC offered Web site visitors a pre-filled form to e-mail the commission and the network.
“The word was not bleeped or in anyway obscured,” read the PTC’s Web form complaint to the FCC.
And the form suggested the following to NBC:
“This kind of language would be totally unacceptable during even the latest hours of primetime on a broadcast network, but it is simply inexcusable to use this language during a family-hour awards show when children are in the viewing audience.”
A news story on U2’s Web site about the band’s Golden Globe win included Bono’s comment, censoring the word with dashes.
Bono helped found DATA (Debt, AIDS, and Trade for Africa) last year, meeting several times with Christian audiences to seek support.
“A third of the Earth’s population is incarcerated by poverty,” Bono told Christianity Today in April 2002 while in Washington, D.C., to gather support for Africa. “It is, as they say, the drive of the Scriptures. Why isn’t it the drive of the churches?”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.