Deborah D. McAdams /
02.06.2012 10:00 AM
Super Bowl Bird Slips Time-Delay Net as FCC Struggles With Indecency Enforcement
MULTIPLE CITIES: Once again, a split-second image of the Super Bowl half-time spectacle is getting more post-event press than the game itself. TV decency watchdogs are up in arms over the performer M.I.A. flipping the bird during Madonna’s performance, and NBC’s crew not catching it on tape delay in time to obscure it.

Here’s Tim Winters, president of the Parents Television Council Tim Winter:

“NBC fumbled and the NFL lied because a performer known as M.I.A. felt it necessary to flip off millions of families. It is unfortunate that a spectacular sporting event was overshadowed once again by broadcasting the selfish acts of a desperate performer.”

Winter contended that the NFL “lied” because it had “formally told the PTC, and the American public, that the Super Bowl halftime show would be ‘appropriate.’”

The National Football League’s Brian McCarthy issued a widely publicized apology: “The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans.” According to, the League blamed NBC for not catching the singer’s gesture in time to digitally distort it. An NBC spokesman said it was “a spontaneous gesture that our delay system caught late.”

Indeed, the gesture was only a split-second, though seemingly aimed right at a live camera operator. The singer also appeared to verbalize a scatological term prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission for prime-time broadcast TV.

The incident recalls the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show when Janet Jackson’s breast was flashed for all to see in what was later termed a “wardrobe malfunction.” The FCC received more than 540,000 complaints about the performance and fined CBS and its affiliates $550,000 in a March 2006 Omnibus Order. The order was an indecency dragnet that levied a combined $4.5 million in fines for assorted verbal profanities and visual vulgarities. The CBS Super Bowl fine found its way in 2009 to the U.S. Supreme Court, which instructed a lower federal court to revisit its ruling in favor of CBS. That court--U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia--ruled again in November that the fine was invalid because it was inconsistent with FCC policy at the time.

The legal skirmish leaves FCC indecency enforcement in the lurch. The commission temporarily deferred action on indecency cases after 2006, but later resumed investigating complaints with the caveat that “subsequent court decisions... have again raised questions about the commission’s indecency authority.”

The commission’s standing indecency rules are derived from Pacifica, a 34-year-old Supreme Court case ruling that regulation was appropriate because broadcast signals were “uniquely pervasive.” Under Pacifica, anything airing between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. that describes or depicts “sexual or excretory organs or activities;” is patently offensive by community standards; and lacks artistic or educational merit, is subject to FCC fines. Those rules say nothing regarding obscene gestures, so the PTC is calling on the NFL and NBC to step up their own preventative measures.

“Either the NFL and NBC will take immediate steps to hold those accountable for this offensive material in front of a 100 million Americans, or they will feebly sit back and do nothing” Winter said. “The nation--and the PTC--is watching.”

Sunday’s Super Bowl between the prevailing New York Giants and the New England Patriots garnered an overnight rating of 47.8 for NBC, according to Nielsen. The numbers came in just a hair shy of last year’s 47.9 percent for Fox’s Super Bowl telecast, which tied with CBS’s coverage of the Giants win over Denver in 1987.
~Deborah D. McAdams

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Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 03:10 PM Report Comment
I think that an obscene gesture, such as this, is much worse than seeing a part of the female body, as was the case with Jackson.
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 03:37 PM Report Comment
Perhaps, the artist(s) in question, knowing the type of event and air time of the event and assuming the artist(s) had been made aware of any restrictions not suitable for the event and time slot, should be held accountable. not the unsuspecting technicians or network(s). If performers are not made aware of what is out of bounds for a public event, there's the first mistake.
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 03:49 PM Report Comment
who cares, such a minor incident few noticed.
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 04:06 PM Report Comment
Really....Nobody cares.. worry about something imortant.
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 04:11 PM Report Comment
Perhaps future contracts with the halftime performers should contain a clause stipulating that any inappropriate behavior, as defined in the contract, will result in the performer not being paid. Janet Jackson should have beern blacklisted by the networks and local stations. Instead, she got all of the free publicity that she was seeking.
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 04:36 PM Report Comment
I think as broadcasters we have much more important things to worry about. I watched the entire half time show and did not see the bird being flown or the profanity. Maybe the PTC should stop being so critical about what is on a sporting event and each almost imperceptible gesture and utterance and worry about the declining academic standards of our schools. We can not police every thing. The government and over regulation of all aspects of our life is not the answer. PTC, Grow up and focus on education and bettering our schools, not policing the broadcast industry.
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 04:38 PM Report Comment
I don't think anyone would have noticed unless the PTC guy made a big stink about it.
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 07:10 PM Report Comment
I've been a huge fan of MIA for years. Some cultural differences here people aren't willing to consider. There's a difference between rude and obscene in my opinion.
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 02-06-2012 09:35 PM Report Comment
I personally don't find it obscene, and I'm not sure that current community standards would either, if that's still the test. However I wouldn't be thrilled if it was on my station. I still remain a big MIA fan. I've had her on the air with me more than once, and knew, by the nature of her personality and art, to never have her live. Don't know why NBC wasn't expecting something. They have more resources to know that kind of stuff than our independent station. FWIW, MIA was a pleasure to have on the air.
Posted by: Anonymous
Tue, 02-07-2012 02:58 AM Report Comment
I keep thinking that if this were Europe, no one would have ever uttered an unsavory word, because they're adults. But no, this is America, where half of the country has a mentality of a little child, and wants to stay that way. --Duke & Banner
Posted by: Anonymous
Tue, 02-07-2012 02:46 PM Report Comment
Why not just take the performer that threw the bird and obsenity and toss them out of the venue on their sorry lil' @55. AND, since NBC/GE probably has some financial tie-in with said cretin, let's see if they can put their money where their microphones are and take this so-called artist and twist her lil' pocket book for all the money that may be due the FCC/Alphabet-Boobermint Wonks when the dust is finally settled. The affiliates are EXPECTING no less than API, a clean and scrubbed telecast. If the program supplier (NBC's hired producers) can't keep their jollies in their pants and have to find some air-head who-cares-about-them wanna-be performer/pole-dancer to cause some controversy...fine the production company too. BTW, this M.I.A. chick...what was the deal with her pulling the P*55y-piece out of the way just as she was flashing the "bird?" Was there "something" that we were expected to believe she showed us really showing? Talk about subliminal... Hey, it was Maddonna (or however you want to spell it)...what should you have expected? It was the same with the WHO's performance a few Roman Numerals expected Pete to screech out "Who the f*ck are you!?" and it didn't happen...right? This time, too close and over the line... Let's just drop the TV aspect of the Half-Time show of the SB and let the home viewers tune in to the LINGERIE BOWL or the PUPPY-BOWL (Animal Planet) least on AP, they have the common decency to not run live and if a puppy should happen to squirt out a '1' or drop a '2,' we can be thankful the FCC hasn't quite figured out how to mandate that "Smell-O-Vision" be up and running by 01 January 2013...yet. (I wonder how much a Smell-Sensor would get paid? Then again, I wouldn't really care to know those kind of details...)
Posted by: Anonymous
Tue, 02-07-2012 07:52 PM Report Comment
MIA is from multiple non-North American countries and may still be unaware mainstream USA standards. For example, I had to explain to her the concept of public broadcasting (public radio in this case). She had no idea of the business model, which leads me to believe she may also be unaware of what is acceptable on mainstream television in the United States. I see that I'm the unpopular opinion here, but that's been the theme throughout my career. I still think there may be some cultural differences at play here that USA-centric folks are having trouble grasping.
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 02-10-2012 04:52 PM Report Comment
Who the F cares? Fine MIA and let it be. Next year make sure the Super Bowl get the ADL or higher rating so that PTC knows what they're in for and can choose not to watch.

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