Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell has asked his fellow commissioners to overturn a much-criticized decision that an expletive uttered by the musician Bono on a network program was not obscene.
During last year’s NBC broadcast of the Golden Globes Awards, the lead singer of the Irish rock group U2 said “this is really, really, f------ brilliant.”
The FCC’s enforcement bureau ruled in October that the comment was not indecent or obscene because Bono used the word as an adjective, not to describe a sexual act. “The performer used the word ... as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation,” the bureau said.
Powell circulated a proposed ruling to the four other commissioners on Tuesday. He needs the votes of two of the four to overturn the decision.
The enforcement bureau had rejected complaints from the Parents Television Council and more than 200 people, most of them associated with the conservative advocacy group, who accused dozens of television stations of violating restrictions on obscene broadcasts by airing portions of the awards program last January.
Under FCC rules, broadcasters cannot air obscene material at any time and cannot air indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
In a letter to the Parents Television Council last November, Powell said the FCC needed to balance its rules against indecency and obscenity with the First Amendment right to free speech. Even so, he said, “I find the use of the ’F-word’ on programming accessible to children reprehensible.”
Some lawmakers have criticized the FCC decision.
Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., introduced a resolution that called it the “latest salvo in a string of decisions by the Federal Communications Commission that establishes a precedent regarding the use of universally recognized vulgar expletives on our nation’s public airwaves.”
And Reps. Doug Ose, R-Calif., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, proposed legislation that would ban five words and three phrases from the airwaves.