FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Part III: Bono and the FCC’s change of course.

This is part of a series of posts discussing the background of the Supreme Court’s “fleeting expletives” case from last week, FCC v. Fox Television Stations.

In the last two posts (click here to see the whole string of posts, including this one, on a single page, in chronological order), I talked about the FCC’s original policy against indecency on the airwaves, which the FCC explained and defended in its 1975 opinion against the George Carlin monologue (watch a version of it here if you haven’t seen it already), and which the Supreme Court upheld in its 1978 case, FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.

Now let’s flip ahead 26 years, to the FCC’s opinion, “In the Matter of Complaints Against Various Broadcast Licensees Regarding Their Airing of the ‘Golden Globe Awards’ Program” (click here for a plain-text version).

On January 19, 2003, during NBC’s airing of the Golden Globe Awards, Bono said: “This is really, really, fucking brilliant. Really, really great.” The Parents Television Council complained, asking the FCC to levy monetary fines against the offending stations. The Chief of the Enforcement Bureau said the material was neither obscene nor indecent — and as to indecency, he found that Bono’s language “did not describe, in context, sexual or excretory organs or activities and that the utterance was fleeting and isolated.” PTC appealed to the Commission.