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FCC Set to Fine CBS Stations for Bared Breast at Super Bowl

One regulator calls the $550,000 penalty for airing the Janet Jackson incident too small.

September 05, 2004|Jube Shiver Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Over the objection of at least one regulator who sought harsher punishment, the Federal Communications Commission is set to impose a record $550,000 fine against CBS-owned stations for their airing of singer Janet Jackson's naked right breast at the end of her halftime performance during the Feb. 1 Super Bowl.

The fine, which has been under consideration for a month, is expected to be announced within two weeks, two FCC sources said Saturday. It signals a more pointed government effort to crack down on broadcasters amid mounting public criticism that television and radio stations have become too coarse and explicit.

The FCC sources said the agency had informally approved the fine but had delayed its announcement to allow commissioners time to iron out their differences and fine tune their public statements.

Agreement on the fine came over the objection of FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein, a Democrat. He is said to be outraged that the FCC plans to fine the 20 TV stations owned by CBS and not include the approximately 200 affiliates that also aired the incident. The CBS-owned stations would each pay $27,500.

"The fine should be much higher," said one agency lawyer working on the issue. "This sends the wrong signs" to the industry, the lawyer said.

Neither CBS, which is owned by New York-based Viacom Inc., nor FCC spokesman David Fiske could be reached for comment Saturday.

CBS, however, has said there was little it could have done to prevent the airing of Jackson's breast because the Super Bowl was broadcast live.

The FCC has authority only over individual station licensees, which means the agency is able to fine CBS as a station owner but not the network itself.

Thousands of Super Bowl viewers inundated the agency with calls, faxes and e-mails of criticism after Jackson bared her breast for two seconds at the end of her halftime duet in Houston with Justin Timberlake. FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell responded by taking the unusual step of personally launching an investigation.

The FCC, which has issued about $4 million in indecency fines since 1990, has intensified its scrutiny of broadcasters as lawmakers have pressed for stricter rules.

The House has approved a bill to increase penalties for obscene, indecent and profane broadcasts. The measure is pending in the Senate.

Under the FCC's enforcement regulations, broadcasters fined for airing indecent material have 30 days to pay or appeal. If the fine is not paid within 30 days, collection is turned over to the Justice Department, which can file suits in federal court to recover the money.

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