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FCC Throws Flag at CBS's Halftime Play

Commissioners Propose $550,000 Indecency Fine

By Frank Ahrens and Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page C01

Airing a glimpse of Janet Jackson's right breast during the Super Bowl could cost 20 TV stations owned by CBS $550,000 in indecency fines, the Federal Communications Commission finally announced yesterday. Those stations were singled out, the FCC explained, because they are part of a media conglomerate that also employs the heavily fined radio shock jock Howard Stern.

The five FCC commissioners unanimously determined that the halftime performance, in which pop star Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Jackson's costume to briefly reveal her right breast, was "in apparent violation of the broadcast indecency standard."

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But it proposed to slap the maximum fine allowable, $27,500, on only the 20 CBS-owned stations instead of every station that carried Jackson's performance, not only because Viacom-owned CBS was involved in the planning of the halftime show, which was produced by MTV (another Viacom property) but also because of "the history of indecency violations committed by Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting Corporation subsidiary."

Infinity, the nation's second largest radio chain, syndicates "The Howard Stern Show."

The commission says it received more than a half-million complaints about the halftime performance, which MTV.com had promised in advance would include "shocking moments." Jackson and Timberlake danced their way through the Timberlake tune "Rock Your Body" as he periodically grabbed at her buttocks. At the end of the number, he reached across her chest and pulled off the right cup of her bustier as, according to Nielsen estimates, about one in five American kids between the ages of 2 and 11 looked on.

"The song's lyrics leave little doubt where the show was going: 'Hurry up, cause you're taking too long . . . better have you naked by the end of this song.' Well, [Timberlake] certainly did and, judging by the complaints, it had its intended shocking effect -- and drew a penalty flag in the process," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said yesterday in a statement.

CBS said it was "extremely disappointed" with the ruling.

"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," the network said in a statement.

CBS also noted that its own investigation of the incident "proved that no one in our company had any advance knowledge about the incident." CBS has 30 days to either pay the fine or argue that it is unjustified, after which the FCC can order the payment.

A representative for Jackson did not return a call for comment. In an issue scheduled to hit newsstands next week, Genre magazine reports that Jackson calls the brouhaha over the Super Bowl incident "stupid," "dumb" and "contradictory," particularly given that prevalent TV commercials for alcohol and erectile dysfunction treatments are "very sexual." Jackson goes on to say: "I wish I wouldn't have apologized. You don't apologize for an accident."


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