Madonna half time show: What's a network to do when performers behave badly?
Lots of finger-pointing has ensued after a rapper during the Madonna half time show at the Super Bowl made an obscene gesture – before millions of TV viewers. Indecency during prime time is an issue already before the US Supreme Court.
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Robert Miller, a partner in the Dallas office of Gardere Wynne Sewell who has represented clients before the FCC for 25 years, is one who says the network is not to blame and should not suffer a penalty as a result.Skip to next paragraph
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“Despite the uproar over this incident, NBC has done nothing wrong under current law,” he says, via an e-mail. He is hoping the Supreme Court will find that the FCC must refine its indecency rules, so that it will stop holding "broadcasters like NBC accountable, even though they have taken reasonable steps to prohibit such unwanted exposure.”
The issue is not only when and how networks should be punished for violating FCC rules, but also over the extent of free speech rights, as some see it.
“There is a growing disrespect for the First Amendment,” says Paul Levinson, author of "New New Media." In the grand scheme of things, whether a performer flashes a middle finger is “utterly meaningless and a sad commentary on what Madonna feels she needs to do to stay culturally relevant,” he says. The danger is that it may push the FCC to further erode First Amendment freedoms – and this, not a single puerile gesture that many viewers missed completely, is what is important, he says.
Ed Arke, associate professor of communication at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., says the furor that has ensued after the show eclipses the actual finger flash. “I was watching the halftime show with my children (12 & 14) and we didn’t notice initially,” says Mr. Arke, in an e-mail. “It is certainly on my radar screen now because of the added attention being brought in the aftermath.”
Ms. Henson at the Parents Television Council disagrees that the rude gesture itself is unimportant. She notes that the council sought assurances from the NFL a week ago that the halftime show would be appropriate for a family audience and received an e-mail assuring her that it would be. “But there are many families who have lost their trust after the second incident [the first being the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show] and will find other viewing options on Super Bowl Sunday next year.”
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