CBS stations fight FCC over Super Bowl fine

November 12, 2004

Twenty CBS-owned TV stations are saying no to the FCC. They have challenged the commission's plans to collectively fine stations $550,000 for airing a split second of Janet Jackson’s breast during this year's Super Bowl halftime show.

The CBS group said that neither its network nor MTV, which produced the halftime show, had any idea that performer Justin Timberlake intended to rip off the bodice of Jackson’s costume during their halftime show duet.

CBS said the FCC reached the conclusion that the halftime show was designed to pander to, titillate and shock the viewing audience. As a matter of simple logic, CBS said, something cannot be designed without advance knowledge.

The FCC said in September that it planned to fine each of the stations the maximum $27,500 for violating broadcast indecency standards through their live February 1, 2004, telecast of Jackson’s performance.

While acknowledging in a 78-page filing that the incident had become a defining moment in the FCC’s aggressive campaign to combat indecency on the airwaves, the stations denied that the fleeting glimpse of a woman’s breast violated decency standards.

The stations said if the proposed fine stands, it would lead to the end of live broadcasting and place broadcasters on notice that they risk massive liability and perhaps license revocation if they fail to adopt technical measures to avoid the possibility of a spontaneous transgression.

If the FCC doesn’t reverse its unanimous stance, Viacom can choose to pay the fine. If it refuses, the Justice Department may attempt to collect, which means the issue is likely to be decided by in court.

For more information, visit www.fcc.gov.

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