On TV, 'Extreme Caution' vs. Free Speech

That may be because of the increased pressure to keep live events controversy-free, following the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show when Justin Timberlake infamously -- and, he claimed, accidently -- exposed Janet Jackson's breast during a dance routine. The FCC fined Super Bowl broadcaster CBS $550,000 for violating anti-indecency laws.

A Forum for Free Speech?

Astronomical as those fines can be, John Macleod Gourlie, professor of communications at Quinnipiac University, thinks the networks are using them as an excuse to stifle free speech. He said he wouldn't put it past Fox to blame its censorship of an anti-war rant on a relatively mild expletive.

"I see it as a total excuse," he said. "While I understand it, the concerns for money have engulfed the concerns for media to fulfill its functions."

Even if Fox censored Field purely because of her expletive and not because of her message, Gourlie thinks they were wrong to do so. He argues that, considering the Emmys aired at night, at a time when most children are in bed or at least not listening in rapt attention to a 60-year-old actress at an awards show, Fox should have aired Field's speech in its entirety, curse word and all.

"One should question the larger offense in a land where freedom of speech is a constitutional right: Whether censorship in the name of other values is the right decision, and in the end, if all of those values that we want to serve are better served by allowing a greater openness of speech instead of having someone's finger on a censor button," he said.

Political Statements OK, F-Bombs and Jesus Jabs Not

Sometimes the call to censor content is made even before the networks get involved. Last week, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences decided to cut down the acceptance speech comedian Kathy Griffin gave at the Emmy Creative Arts Awards, a ceremony held before the main show and taped a week in advance of air, because the Catholic League took offense at her comments.

Accepting an Emmy for her reality show "My Life on the D-List," Griffin joked, "A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."

She went on to hold up her statue and declare, "This award is my god now!"

For as long as they've won awards, actors have ruffled feathers with their acceptance speeches.

In 1974, Marlon Brando famously refused to pick up his Oscar for "The Godfather," instead sending to the podium a young woman dressed as a Native American to protest Hollywood's use of Native Americans in film. In 1993, Richard Gere used his platform as an Oscar presenter to protest China's policies in Tibet.

But when celebrities sprinkle their speeches with four-letter words, the networks spring to action. In 2003, U2 singer Bono incited an FCC investigation when he called his Golden Globe award "f---ing brilliant" onstage. Later that year, Nicole Richie and Fox caught heat when she jokingly dropped the F-bomb while presenting at the Billboard Music Awards.

Thompson understands why networks cringe at the F-word. But in Field's case, he thinks Fox may have overstepped their boundaries.

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