WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter) - The nation’s top TV regulator said it would be difficult for the Federal Communications Commission to take action against ABC stations that aired “Good Morning America” on Tuesday when actress Diane Keaton used the f-word.
Last year’s court decision that threw out the FCC’s policy on “fleeting references” complicates any action the commission might want to take against the stations or the network, chairman Kevin Martin told reporters.
When asked whether the FCC would take action, Martin appeared flummoxed by the court’s decision and the most recent incident of celebrity potty mouth.
“Obviously the commission’s pending litigation has impacted a whole host of issues, but I don’t know enough about the details of this to see how it would be impacted,” he said.
On “Good Morning America” to promote her new film “Mad Money,” Keaton told host Diane Sawyer that she admired her beauty, especially Sawyer’s lips, saying that if she had lips like that she wouldn’t have had to work on her “f—-ing personality” and would be married by now.
After she spoke the word, Keaton made an offhand apology, and Sawyer warned that her mother was going to wash her mouth out with soap.
ABC News senior vp Jeffrey Schneider said the network bleeped the word for the Central, Mountain and Pacific time zone feeds and regretted the incident.
“It was obviously unfortunate, and we were quick to correct it for subsequent feeds,” he said.
Last year, a federal appeals court in New York threw out the FCC’s rule that said a fleeting reference gets broadcasters a fine for indecency. In its decision, the court told the commission that it failed to give a good reason for its decision and likely couldn’t find a good reason if it had to.
The Bush administration is appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Congress has also taken action. Briefs are due in the appeal next month.
In June, the Senate Commerce Committee agreed on the Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act, which overturns the court decision.
Under the rule the court rejected in June, the FCC decided that language used by Cher and Nicole Richie during the Billboard Music Awards was indecent and profane. During the 2002 show, Cher told the audience, “People have been telling me I’m on the way out every year. So f—- ‘em.” In 2003, Richie said: “Have you ever tried to get cow s—t out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f—-ing simple.”
While the commission found that the shows violated the broadcast indecency rules, it didn’t issue a fine because the shows predated a policy established in 2004 after U2 frontman Bono said that winning a Golden Globe was “really, really f—-ing brilliant.”
In the Bono decision, the FCC changed its definition of “fleeting” use, deciding that a certain word can be so vile that it runs afoul of the nation’s indecency laws. The court’s decision appeared to undo the Bono decision, which has been sitting at the commission on review for some time.
“The commission’s order makes passing reference to other reasons that purportedly support its change in policy, none of which we find sufficient,” the court wrote.
Under current law and commission policy, broadcasters can be fined up to $325,000 per indecent incident for each station.