The repercussions from the breast-baring incident during the half time show of Super Bowl XXXVIII continue to be felt throughout the industry as broadcasters face Congressional threats of significantly hire fines and automatic license revocation hearings for broadcasting indecent programming.
Last week, members of the House Telecommunications committee heard from Viacom executives, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, FCC Chairman Michael Powell and Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein, Michael Copps, Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin, as they grappled with how to respond to what many in Congress and the public see as a rising tide of indecent broadcast programming.
“The increasing coarseness on television and radio has resulted in a dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes,” FCC Chairman Powell said in his testimony. “Over 200,000 concerned citizens and counting have filed complaints with the Commission on the Super Bowl incident alone.”
Viacom president and chief operating officer Mel Karmazin repeated apologies he has made publicly since singer Justin Timberlake pulled the costume of Janet Jackson down, revealing her right breast to millions of Super Bowl half-time show viewers on CBS. He told members of the committee that no one at the network, Viacom or Viacom-owned MTV, which produced the half-time show, had foreknowledge of what was to come.
Karmazin also told lawmakers that to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in the future, CBS would delay live events by five minutes and instruct its owned and operated stations to buy equipment to delay locally produced live programs.
The Viacom chief told the committee that efforts to raise fines tenfold to $275,000 for broadcasting indecency would “devastate” small market television broadcasters.
The five members of the Commission also testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Commissioner Copps told the Senate committee: “We know this: there is a law against indecency. The courts have upheld it. And each one of us at this table has an obligation to enforce that law in a credible and effective way. Each of us has a mandate to protect children from obscene, indecent and profane programming.
“Some have argued that the Commission needs additional authority from Congress so that it can make a serious effort to stop indecency. I am all for more authority. But in the meantime, let us use the arrows we already hold in our quiver.”
For his part, Powell told the committee that he has called upon the industry to clean up its act. “I have written the broadcast industry, the major television networks and the cable industry and challenged them to take affirmative steps consistent with antitrust law and within the limits of the First Amendment, to curb indecent, inappropriate and violent programming,” he said.
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