Claiming that their free-speech rights had been violated, Mötley Crüe filed suit against NBC, the network that banned the group for dropping the F-bomb on a live New Year’s Eve broadcast of “The Tonight Show.”
“This ban constitutes governmentally pressured censorship and violates the law the same as if the government itself had ordered the censorship,” read the suit, filed in Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday. Claiming the ban was a result of an attempt by the network to pacify the government in light of its crackdown on indecency, the band says in the suit that the action has hurt its record sales and prevented it from appearing on a host of other NBC shows to promote a reunion tour and greatest-hits album.
Singer Vince Neil wished drummer Tommy Lee a “Happy f—ing New Year” during the program, with the expletive going out uncensored to most of the country. As an explanation, the suit claims that “caught up in the exuberance of the moment, Neil meant no harm to anyone, and shortly thereafter, the band sought to issue a public apology, which NBC squelched.”
The group maintains that, as a result of the ban, an appearance on “Last Call With Carson Daly” was canceled (a booking a network representative has previously told MTV News was never confirmed) and they were barred from appearing on such popular NBC programs as “The Today Show” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”
At the same time as it was banning the Crüe, NBC announced a reality show with Lee, “thus penalizing the band so NBC can appease and placate the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] and avoid any action or sanctions against its business.”
The suit also mentions that singer John Mayer used “similar expletives” on an NBC broadcast several weeks later and that System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian yelled the F-word during a May 7 “Saturday Night Live” appearance, both without sanction. Like the Crüe slip-up, the suit claims both incidents occurred during “safe harbor” hours. The FCC did find that NBC violated decency standards when it allowed Bono’s utterance of “f—ing brilliant” to slip by during the 2003 Golden Globes broadcast, but no fine was imposed.
The band is seeking a court order that would force the network to lift the ban and pay unspecified financial damages tied to its reduced ability to promote the Red, White & Crüe album and tour (see “Motley Crue Plan Summertime Carnival Of Sin With Sum 41″ ).
“We meant no harm, but it feels that we’re being singled out unfairly,” bassist Nikki Sixx told The New York Times. “This is a discrimination issue, pure and simple. All we’ve ever asked is to be treated like everybody else, which is why we’re taking this action.”
NBC issued a statement in response to the suit on Tuesday, which explained, “To ensure compliance with its broadcast standards, NBC has the right to decide not to invite back guests who violate those standards and use an expletive during a live entertainment program. The lawsuit Mötley Crüe has filed against us is meritless.”
First Amendment lawyer Charles Tobin, who has represented CNN and FOX in the past, told the paper that he doubts the suit — which he characterized as a “publicity stunt” — has much weight. “The government has no right to censor people on the content of their speech,” Tobin said. “But time and again the Supreme Court has upheld the rights of broadcasters, newspapers and the other media to decide who it wants to give priority to. That includes the right to ban anyone they want to.”