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FCC Plans Record Fine For CBS

Halftime Show Found Indecent

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 4, 2004; Page E01

The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote unanimously for a record-setting fine against CBS-owned stations for violating broadcast decency standards with the network's January breast-baring Super Bowl halftime show, though some commissioners are expected to say the fines are not severe enough, FCC sources said.

The $550,000 indecency fine would be the largest levied against a television broadcaster. The decision could be released as early as next week but may come the week after, said the sources, who would not speak for attribution because the vote has not been made public. The amount represents a $27,500 fine directed at each of the 20 television stations owned by CBS, which in turn is owned by Viacom Inc.


Justin Timberlake prepares to tear off part of Janet Jackson's costume at their Super Bowl halftime show. (Pierre Ducharme -- Reuters)

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Excluded from the fines are CBS's more than 200 affiliate stations, which also broadcast the show. That exclusion is one source of disagreement among the five members of the FCC, according to the sources, who are familiar with the commission's deliberations.

A spokesman for the FCC would not comment on the pending ruling.

"We would be extremely disappointed," CBS said in a statement issued last night. "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.

"We would obviously review all of our options to respond to the ruling and we continue to call on the FCC to address serious issues raised by the more than 30 industry participants who challenged the FCC's sweeping new indecency policy," the statement said.

When the vote is released, it will be accompanied by statements from the commissioners, some of whom are expected to take exception to portions of the ruling.

In his statement, Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein is expected to argue that the FCC received complaints about the broadcast from viewers watching on all CBS affiliates -- more than 90 million saw the primetime broadcast -- and that the affiliates should be fined as well, sources said.

Further, the FCC's enforcement bureau ruled that only Janet Jackson's brief exposure, which occurred when singer Justin Timberlake ripped off part of her leather bodice, was indecent. The agency also received complaints about the entire show, produced by Viacom-owned MTV, which featured a crotch-grabbing rapper and several S&M-clad dancers gyrating behind Jackson and Timberlake.

Some commissioners are expected to argue that other incidents within the halftime show should have been ruled indecent and subject to fines as well.


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