Let’s have a round of applause for the NBC Broadcast Standards employees who had their hands on the mute button during last night’s Golden Globes telecast. They did an impressive job, and it was no easy task.
Amid the glitz and glamour of last night’s awards show were crude jokes and explicit dialogue spoken by a number of celebrity presenters, award winners, and the host, Ricky Gervais. NBC caught most of it and dropped the audio. (And how refreshing to have mere silence instead of the ubiquitous and harshly obtrusive “bleep” sound that broadcasters insert to make it abundantly clear to everyone that profanity is being used!)
Make no mistake, it wasn’t a perfectly clean Globes broadcast. There was still enough adult content (milder unmuted expletives, sexual dialogue, some violence) to cause concern for parents who may have been watching with their children and to warrant the TV-14 DL content rating. But thankfully, most of the explicit language was muted and viewers at home weren’t exposed to the most offensive content.
Commentators are abuzz about all the muted content. Yet nobody is talking about why NBC was so diligent in muting it. The reason comes down to dollars, cents and the broadcast licenses of its affiliates: But for the network removing all the f-bombs and other explicit dialogue, NBC likely would be facing huge financial sanctions by the Federal Communications Commission for violating the broadcast indecency law.
It is important to remember that NBC allowed an f-bomb to air in a Golden Globes telecast a dozen or so years ago. Thousands of Americans filed formal broadcast indecency complaints at the FCC. The FCC initially ruled it was just a “fleeting expletive” that didn’t rise to the level of indecency; but after public outrage – and bipartisan condemnation from Capitol Hill – the FCC reversed itself and determined the broadcast to have been legally indecent. Years of legal arguments ensued, and the case was fought all the way to the Supreme Court. Despite NBC’s claim that it enjoyed a constitutional right to air f-bombs at all times of the day – even when children are watching – the Court sided with the public, upholding the FCC’s enforcement of broadcast indecency before 10:00 pm.
The Parents Television Council was the driving force that led successfully to the broadcast indecency law being upheld. We were the driving force behind the ten-fold increase in fines for broadcasters who violated the indecency law. And today the PTC continues to be the driving force for the broadcast indecency law’s ongoing enforcement. Had the FCC not sanctioned a TV station last year for airing indecent material, NBC might have decided to air give its “bleep button” staff the night off. In fact, NBC and the other networks might not even have a “bleep button” staff at all, had it not been for the FCC’s enforcement action last year.
Unfortunately for American families, there has been a paradigm shift with entertainment industry awards shows in recent years. Instead of being a Hollywood celebration that was broadcast into America’s living rooms, now families must go into Hollywood’s venue, which is filled with raunchy and explicit content. But it underscores the importance of the broadcast indecency law: without that law and its enforcement, there would have been no need for NBC to mute explicit language at the Golden Globes.
So, thank you to the unsung heroes – NBC’s broadcast standards team and the millions of Americans who have supported the broadcast indecency law – and the FCC’s enforcement of that law – through the years. Your work to protect children has not gone unnoticed.