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CBS fined $550,000 for Superbowl incident

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

CBS fined $550,000 for Superbowl incident

  • CBS’s 20 owned-and-operated stations will each be fined the maximum amount for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction “during this year’s Super Bowl half-time show.

Sep. 22, 2004 — The Federal Communications Commission fined CBS a record $550,000 Wednesday for violating federal indecency standards after showing pop star Justin Timberlake peel away Janet Jackson’s top, exposing her breast to a nationwide television audience during this year’s Super Bowl half-time show.

The five-member commission found that Jackson’s partial nudity was, in the context of a sporting event, a violation of broadcast indecency standards.

The fine represents the maximum allowed under current law — $27,500 — for each of the 20 CBS stations owned and operated by the network’s owner, Viacom. But the FCC decided not to fine CBS’s more than 200 affiliate stations because of their apparent lack of involvement in the selection, planning, and approval of the telecast, the FCC said.

The total penalty of $550,000 is the largest fine ever for indecency on television, according to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. (Clear Channel Communication’s $750,000 January fine over a radio broadcast is the largest FCC fine.) He agreed with the fine on CBS, but was concerned with the failure to assess a penalty against non-Viacom-owned affiliates that aired the Super Bowl. He didn’t want stations to think the FCC excuses indecent broadcasts merely because a station did not control the production of the content.

FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein was outraged by the commission’s remedy. “All the bold talk, it’s a slap on the wrist that can be paid with just 7 ½ seconds of Super Bowl ad time,” he said in a written statement. ” The $550,000 fine measures up to only about a dollar per complaint for the more than 542,000 complaints that flooded into the FCC after the broadcast.”

“Most troubling, this decision sets a puzzling precedent by failing to hold all licensees responsible for the material broadcast over their stations. Why announce such a thorough investigation if we just let some of the stations that broadcast this material completely off the hook? . . . I fear that today we’re responding to a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ with a regulatory malfunction,”he said.

CBS said it was extremely disappointed with the decision.

“While we regret that the incident occurred and have apologized to our viewers, we continue to believe that nothing in the Super Bowl broadcast violated indecency laws,” the network said in a statement reported by the Associated Press. “Furthermore, our investigation proved that no one in our company had any advance knowledge about the incident.”

Viacom has said it will fight any fines levied against its stations for the Jackson performance.


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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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