FCC Weighing Fines for All CBS Affiliates Over Super Bowl Incident

Aug 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

If two members of the Federal Communications Commission have their say, all 219 of CBS’s affiliates could have to pay a price for Janet Jackson’s breast flash during the network’s Super Bowl coverage in February. That was one of the major possibilities still being debated at the agency today — almost seven months after FCC Chairman Michael Powell expressed outrage about the prime-time exposure and vowed a “thorough and swift” investigation.

Under his own preferred resolution, Mr. Powell has proposed to fine each of CBS’s 20 owned-and-operated TV stations the $27,500 maximum previously allowed under law for indecencies, for a total of $550,000.

Mr. Powell’s proposal would limit the levies to the stations actually owned by the network. Agency sources said Mr. Powell and Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, both Republicans, voted in support of the chairman’s proposal shortly after it was forwarded to the commissioners for a vote two months ago. But as of yesterday, sources said Mr. Powell had yet to recruit the third agency vote that would give him the majority needed to adopt the fine, putting the issue in regulatory limbo.

The agency’s two Democrats, Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, were declining comment on the fines. But agency sources confirmed that the issue of whether to fine all affiliates that carried the Super Bowl programming remains alive, at least for Mr. Copps and Mr. Adelstein.

A spokesperson for Kevin Martin, the agency’s third GOP commissioner, declined to comment on the issue. But sources confirmed that Mr. Martin, who was not available for comment, had yet to vote, preventing Mr. Powell from locking in his majority. One key agency source predicted that the issue would be resolved within the next couple of weeks, with Chairman Powell’s proposed solution winning final adoption. “It may end up as a 5-0 vote,” said the source.

Another agency source attributed the lack of votes from Commissioners Martin, Copps and Adelstein to staff vacations and other priorities in their offices. “They’re not getting their work done,” this source said.

Viacom Co-President and Co-CEO Leslie Moonves has vowed to sue if the FCC fines CBS’s O&Os.

“Viacom has steadfastly maintained that it had no knowledge that the incident was planned and has taken every step to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” a Viacom spokesman said.