Viacom Fights Super Bowl Indecency Fine

November 12, 2004
Viacom isn't taking an indecency fine lying down and says neither the network nor its owned and operated stations should be penalized for Janet Jackson baring her breast during the Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year. If the $550,000 fine stands, Viacom believes, it means the "end of live broadcasting as we know it."

In a 94-page response to the FCC for a $550,000 fine levied against Viacom-owned CBS and its 20 owned and operated stations for apparent indecency violations, Viacom says the costume reveal "was as much a shock to Viacom as to everyone else," prompting its CBS network to issue an immediate apology. Based on its own investigation of personnel, documents and videotapes regarding the halftime show Viacom "determined that no one at Viacom, CBS or MTV knew in advance the surprise finale of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake performance."

Although CBS implemented a 5-second delay for the live broadcast, the breast exposure shot reached air for 9/16th of a second, Viacom said.

"The Super Bowl NAL appears to assume what the facts did not show--that someone at Viacom knew, or reasonably should have anticipated, that Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake would deviate from halftime show plans that had been in the works since the previous year. Lacking any evidence to support the initial speculations about network complicity, the commission instead reached the illogical conclusion that the halftime show was designed to 'pander to, titillate and shock the viewing audience' despite the fact that: Viacom (1) did not plan the sole part of the performance the FCC says made it indecent--the "costume reveal;' (2) did not know about it in advance; (3) did not sanction it (and would not have done so had it known); and (4) took steps to prevent anything at odds with broadcast standards," states Viacom.

Nothing in the record supports the commission conclusion that Viacom knew in advance the finale would be sexually suggestive, argues Viacom, which also says the agency is distorting the record when it characterizes Viacom's promotion of the show with a so-called "shocking" finale.

"The commission's decision in this case to propose a $550,000 forfeiture on CBS and its O&O stations for an unplanned, fleeting exposure of a woman's breast is anything but a 'restrained' or 'cautious' approach to enforcement. If it stands, the NAL will lead to the end of live broadcasting as we know it by placing broadcasters on notice they risk massive liability and perhaps license revocation if they fail to adopt technical measures to avoid the possibility of a spontaneous transgression," warns Viacom.

(from Radio World)

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