Miley Cyrus Special Prompts FCC Investigation

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on August 11, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Federal Communications Commission is investigating complaints about the "Miley Cyrus: Bangerz Tour" concert special aired by NBC last month.

The FCC has so far reported receiving four complaints about the special, which featured a toned-down version of the controversial singer's typical stage show, reports Rolling Stone. The show nonetheless included enough sexual and drug-related imagery to draw complaints from viewers that the show violated the Commission's indecency guidelines.

What got viewers so steamed and what are the FCC's rules regarding indecent programming?

Viewers Complained of 'Borderline Pornographic' Content

The FCC provided three of the four complaints submitted by viewers in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Rolling Stone.

All three complaints had issue with the timing of the broadcast, during primetime on the 4th of July holiday weekend. "Very graphic and disturbing for a Sunday evening 9pm summertime broadcast," said one complaint, which noted "borderline pornographic" images and lyrics and "open sexuality on a stage bed" as being worthy of the FCC's power to fine broadcasters.

Another viewer was particularly chafed by the special's portrayal of Abraham Lincoln: "There was a costumed performer depicting President Lincoln following behind her and alongside her and the character acted quite lecherous even patting her on the backside. Very patriotic for the 4th ya think?"

FCC Rules

The FCC has the power to sanction broadcast networks for airing obscene, indecent, or profane material. The FCC fined CBS $550,000 for its 2004 Super Bowl halftime show in which an infamous wardrobe malfunction exposed singer Janet Jackson's breast.

According to FCC rules, airing obscene programming is illegal "at any time," while airing indecent programming or programming that includes profane language may be legal only "during certain hours."

The FCC defines indecent programming as containing patently offensive material that does not quite rise to the level of obscenity but contains "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities."

According to FCC rules, indecent programming aired between the hours of 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM may be subject to "indecency enforcement action." In other words, if Miley's special pushed the envelope too far, NBC may be on the hook for some serious fines.

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