FCC asked to examine whether WWF's Super Bowl ad violated decency rules


NEW YORK (AP) Federal regulators are hearing complaints that the World Wrestling Federation went over the line of decency with its raucous Super Bowl commercial. Two TV watchdog groups said Wednesday the commercial should not have run Sunday on a program with such wide appeal as the annual telecast of the NFL’s championship game. But WWF officials said most people who saw the ad including officials at Fox Broadcasting Co., which carried the telecast found nothing offensive about it and said they intend to continue running the ad.

Robert W. Peters, president of the group Morality in Media, called the WWF commercial “one of the most vile commercials ever aired on network TV” even though he conceded he hadn’t seen it.

The American Family Association, another group often critical of sex and violence on television, told the Federal Communications Commission that the ad fell within the agency’s definition of indecency and should not have run in the early evening as it did on Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast. The American Family Association, which is based in Tupelo, Miss., filed a complaint against its local Fox television affiliate, WLOV in West Point, Miss., and urged others to file similar complaints against their local Fox stations.

The ad in question offered a typical “day at the office” at WWF headquarters in Stamford, Conn. WWF wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin says in the ad that the WWF offers “a nonviolent form of entertainment” just before he slams a folding chair against a passerby. Executives brawled in the lobby and office suites in the ad, and bodies shattered glass partitions.

The scene Roberts and the American Family Association faulted showed a a couple in an embrace with the woman’s legs wrapped around the man’s waist as female wrestler Sable walks by saying “We never use sex to enhance our image.”

“The spot was a tongue-in-cheek parody,” said Jim Byrne, a marketing executive for the WWF. “Everything about it was so over-the-top that for anyone to interpret it literally is interesting.” He said most people got the joke. “There will always be people who take themselves way too seriously who are extremely vocal,” he said.

A call to WLOV was referred after office hours to a lawyer in Washington, and calls to Fox TV network executives for comment were not returned. The FCC has authority to fine broadcast license holders like TV stations. Norman Goldstein, chief of the FCC branch that handles such complaints, said the agency had received 45 complaints about the ad via e-mail through Wednesday morning.

Peters said there probably would have been no complaints about the ad had it run in late-night TV when children are not watching. But he said he was appalled that it was shown during the Super Bowl, which typically draws the year’s biggest TV audience. “The vast majority of parents wouldn’t have any concern about having their 2-year-olds watching it,” he said.