Setting the stage for a likely court battle over the issue of what is and isn't “indecent,” the FCC last week rejected a request by CBS to reconsider the $550,000 fine leveled against the network over the infamous “costume malfunction” that occurred two years ago during the telecast of Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The incident turned into a major national controversy, spurring an FCC campaign over indecency that continues until this day.
The commission, calling the Jackson incident “consciously and deliberately” broadcast, fined CBS $550,000. The commissioners rejected the network's contention that the exposure was accidental, finding that CBS “failed to take reasonable precautions to ensure that no actionably indecent material was broadcast.”
The FCC describes broadcast indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activity.”
CBS contends the halftime show was not indecent, and that the FCC's definition of indecency is “unconstitutionally vague” and too broad.
CBS has not announced its next move, but Les Moonves, the company's chief executive, has strongly hinted in public that he will fight the FCC fine in court.