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FCC reviewing Golden Globes "middle finger" incident

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  1. Content Restrictions
The FCC says it has received 18 complaints about NBC's Golden Globes telecast last weekend and will now review one incident, in which…

The FCC says it has received 18 complaints about NBC’s Golden Globes telecast last weekend and will now review one incident, in which a director was briefly seen giving the middle finger, for adherence to the agency’s indecency rules, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Darren Aronofsky was shown "flipping the bird" at actor Mickey Rourke, who was on stage at the time accepting an award for his role in Aronofsky’s "The Wrestler."  An NBC spokeswoman confirmed the gesture was broadcast live, the Times said, and there was a two-second "blackout" on the West Coast.

What’s not immediately clear is whether and where Aronofsky’s gesture would fall in the indecency spectrum under FCC guidelines. The commission defines broadcast indecency as "language or material that, in context, depicts of describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities" and does not rise to the level of obscenity.

While indecent broadcast material cannot be completely banned because it is protected under the First Amendment, the FCC can restrict it from airing during child-sensitive hours — 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.  What time the gesture was broadcast is obviously important, said William Lee, a journalism professor at the University of Georgia’s Grady College, but so is the question of what is indecent.

"I think symbolic gestures that have a graphic context could be described as indecent," he said.

Although the FCC hasn’t seen many cases precisely like this, the commission has shown sensitivity to the word "fuck" in the past, Lee said, noting U2 singer Bono’s expletive at the 2003 Golden Globes and Nicole Richie’s profanity-laced comments at the 2003 Billboard Music Awards.

Still, it would be surprising if the FCC took any action, he said, as they have other cases pending in the courts and find themselves in a "transitional period."

Incidents like Janet Jackson’s "wardrobe malfunction" in her 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance have influenced the commission’s shifting stances on indecency over the past few years.  Following the Jackson occurrence, the FCC renounced its policy on "fleeting expletives" being unobjectionable and boosted broadcast fines. 

The FCC levied a $550,000 penalty on CBS, but the fine was later dropped in federal appellate court.