FCC to Fine Viacom

Sep 22, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday confirmed that it has voted to fine Viacom $550,000 for Janet Jackson’s breast flash during the CBS coverage of the Super Bowl halftime show early this year for allegedly running afoul of the agency’s indecency prohibitions.

In a statement, the FCC said the fine consisted of a levy of $27,500 for each of CBS’s 20 owned-and-operated TV stations, the maximum allowed under FCC rules at the time of the broadcast. “‘Anything goes’ is not an acceptable mantra for those that elect to earn their profit using the public’s airwaves,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein made clear that he believed the agency should have fined all of the more than 200 CBS affiliates for the incident, not just the company’s O&Os. “After all the bold talk it’s a slap on the wrist that can be paid with just 7½ seconds of Super Bowl ad time,” Mr. Adelstein said, in a statement. “The $550,000 fine measures up to only about a dollar per complaint for the more than 542,000 complaints that flooded into the FCC after the broadcast.” But Mr. Powell said the network’s affiliates could not have been reasonably expected to anticipate the incident.

Viacom, which owns CBS and MTV-the producer of the halftime show-“knew, or surely should have known, what was to come,” said Mr. Powell, however. “The fact that Viacom promoted the halftime show before it aired as one that would be shocking gives credence to their culpability,” Mr. Powell said. In a statement, CBS said it was reviewing its options. “We are extremely disappointed in the ruling,” CBS said. “While we regret that the incident occurred and have apologized to our viewers, we continue to believe that nothing in the Super Bowl broadcast violated indecency laws. Furthermore, our investigation proved that no one in our company had any advance knowledge about the incident.”