CBS Challenges FCC Fine

Nov 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Making clear that it’s not planning to capitulate to the Federal Communications Commission without a fight, CBS has challenged the agency’s decision to fine the network $550,000 for Janet Jackson’s exposure of her breast on the Super Bowl halftime show, alleging that the FCC’s decision runs afoul of the First Amendment.

Finding that Ms. Jackson’s flash was in violation of agency indecency prohibitions, the FCC earlier this year imposed the maximum fine available to it at the time-a $27,500 levy for each of CBS’s 20 owned-and-operated stations. But in a challenge filed at the FCC Nov. 5, CBS alleged that the agency’s decision failed to take into adequate account that nobody at Viacom, CBS or MTV-the Viacom-owned company that produced the halftime show-knew what was coming in the broadcast.

Even so, CBS maintained that the broadcast did not violate indecency standards that the FCC has established over the years. “The brief flash of partial nudity that closed the halftime show was neither explicit nor graphic, did not ‘dwell on’ or ‘repeat at length’ sexual organs or activities and was not used to titillate or shock,” CBS said. “The commission’s expansive interpretation of its enforcement authority in this case exceeds the constitutional boundaries set forth in ‘FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation,’ and its lack of sensitivity to First Amendment values calls into question the entire indecency enforcement regime.” An FCC spokeswoman declined comment.