NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The Golden Globes awards ceremony this Sunday will be a little later than last year - about 10 seconds later.
NBC is airing the show for the first time with a 10-second delay to prevent any presenter or honoree from uttering an obscenity on national television. Last year's show included U-2 singer Bono saying "This is really, really, f------ brilliant," which prompted a formal complaint against NBC and its affiliates by the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC's enforcement bureau ruled in October that NBC and its affiliates were not guilty of a violation because while the word might be crude and offensive, the use of the word was fleeting and isolated and not used to describe sexual or excretory organs or activities.
But that ruling has angered many, including FCC Chairman Michael Powell and members of congress. Powell has said he would like to see the commission overturn the decision on last year's show and that such action could come soon.
Meanwhile two pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress to toughen rules on obscenity -- one which would spell out which words cannot be used on air under any circumstance.
"Currently under FCC policy, indecency determinations hinge on two factors. First, material must describe or depict sexual or excretory organs or activities. Second, the material must be patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium," said Rep. Doug Ose, whose legislation spells out seven words that can not be used. "The vagueness of this stipulation creates a loophole that inevitably allows specific profane language to be broadcast,"
The other piece of legislation raises the fines tenfold on stations and broadcasters found guilty of violating obscenity rules.
"This bill should be wired to go -- it has broad bi-partisan support," said Rep. Fred Upton, its sponsor, who is also chairing a House subcommittee meeting Wednesday entitled, "Can you say that on TV?': An Examination of the FCC's Enforcement with Respect to Broadcast Indecency."
Upton's legislation raises the maximum fine for each station airing a program to $275,000 per incident from $27,500 cap currently. Upton and Powell both argue that increase is needed to get the networks' attention.
"Some of these fines are peanuts," said Powell. "They're peanuts because they haven't been touched in decades. They're just a cost of doing business to a lot of producers. And that has to change."
The FCC is responding to about 142,000 separate complaints filed by members of the Parents Television Council over the last year. The group, which has documented its complaints against each affiliate that has shown about 600 different shows during that period, says that FCC has thus far fallen down on the job of reigning in the networks. Officials with the group say until the commission actually imposes fines against the networks and affiliates, it is little more than a toothless lion.
"Clearly the FCC would never act without this growing outrage and the hearings scheduled for next week," said Tim Winter, the PTC's executive director. "It's laughable the chairman would ask for increased fines given that he's never imposed one. They can raise the number to gazillon dollars and it won't mean anything unless a fine is imposed and collected. But if they are imposed, the level of fines we're talking about would make a difference, will force action."
The National Association of Broadcasters did not return a series of phone calls over several days seeking comments on the legislation.
NBC said it regrets Bono's comments being made on last year's program and that it deleted the word when the program aired later that evening in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. The network did not have any immediate comment on the FCC considering overturning the October decision or the legislation pending in congress.
Fox is also facing an investigation for Nicole Richie using the f-word during its Billboard Music Award program Dec. 10. It also did not have an immediate comment on the investigation or the push.
The networks are facing tougher competition from cable programs for viewership. November was the first time during a sweeps period that more viewers were tuned into cable networks than the broadcast networks during primetime. Shows like HBO's "Sex and the City" and "The Soprano's" and FX's "The Shield" have found both audience and critical acclaim with shows that can freely use words not allowed on broadcast networks. The FCC does not have authority over cable shows.
Elliot Mincberg, legal director of People for the American Way, a free-speech advocacy group, said it is unfair and a bad idea in terms of public policy to toughen obscenity enforcement against the broadcasters at a time when obscenity can be so prevalent in competing media.
"This is kind of like trying to cure an epidemic by treating a single patient," he said.
But media analyst Paul Kim said that it's unlikely that the broadcast networks will stem the flow of viewers wanting racier or edgier programs going to cable, even if the obscenity standards are not toughened.
"I think they (the obscenity rules) are more of an excuse than a shackle," he said. "It's almost irrelevant to how tough the rule is. From a market share standpoint, I don't think it has any impact. They've built the problem themselves by having an infrastructure that creates programming that is always a backwards looking. HBO is a different culture, a different machinery."