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FCC launches probe into Super Bowl halftime show

By The Associated Press
02.02.04

NEW YORK — The chief federal regulator of broadcasting said he was outraged by the Super Bowl halftime show in which singer Justin Timberlake tore off part of Janet Jackson’s costume, exposing her breast.

Timberlake blamed a “wardrobe malfunction,” but Federal Communications Commission chief Michael Powell today called it “a classless, crass and deplorable stunt.”

MTV, which produced the show, and CBS, which broadcast it, both said they had no idea the halftime show last night would include such a display.

“CBS deeply regrets the incident,” spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade said.

The two singers were performing a flirtatious duet to end the halftime show, with Timberlake singing, “Rock Your Body,” and the lines he sang at the moment of truth were: “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song.”

With that, Timberlake reached across Jackson’s leather gladiator outfit and pulled off the covering to her right breast, which was partially obscured by a sun-shaped, metal nipple decoration.

The network quickly cut away, and did not mention the exposure on the air.

“I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl,” FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a statement. “Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation’s children, parents and citizens deserve better.”

He instructed the commission to open an immediate investigation, promising it would be “thorough and swift.” Such an investigation could result in a fine of up to $27,500 or — if the FCC applied the sanction to each CBS station — in the millions.

Earlier, FCC spokeswoman Suzanne Tetreault said it was launching a routine investigation because it had received complaints.

Messages left with Jackson’s record company and her personal publicist were not returned this morning.

The FCC has come under fire from lawmakers and outside groups who say the agency hasn’t done enough to shield the public from indecent programming on radio and TV.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress to increase by 10-fold the $27,500 maximum fine that the FCC can levy for indecency. The Bush administration has endorsed the bill raising the fine to $275,000. The agency itself has said it may start issuing the fine per incident rather than per program, and is talking about revoking licenses.

Last month, the FCC proposed a $755,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications for the “Bubba the Love Sponge” program that aired multiple times on four of its Florida radio stations. The fine was a record for a single complaint. The largest cumulative fine for indecency was $1.7 million paid by Infinity Broadcasting in 1995 for various violations by Howard Stern.

Meanwhile, the halftime show didn’t cause a stir at the White House because President Bush fell asleep.

“I don’t want to admit it, but because this White House starts early, I missed it — again,” he told reporters today after a Cabinet meeting. “Saw the first half, did not see the halftime — I was preparing for the day and fell asleep.”

MTV, CBS’ corporate cousin in Viacom, issued a contrite statement in which it also apologized, saying the display was “unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance.”

Timberlake said he did not intend to expose Jackson’s breast.

“I am sorry that anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance of the Super Bowl,” Timberlake said in a statement. “It was not intentional and is regrettable.”

Wade said CBS officials attended rehearsals of the show all week, and “there was no indication any such thing would happen. The moment did not conform to CBS’ broadcast standards.”

The show also featured P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue called the conduct “offensive, embarrassing to us and our fans, and inappropriate.”

“We will change our policies, our people and our processes before the next Super Bowl to ensure that this entertainment is far more effectively dealt with,” he said.

“We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced halftime show,” said NFL executive vice president Joe Browne. “They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the content of the show.

“It’s unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime.”

Over-the-air television channels cannot air “obscene” material at any time and cannot air “indecent” material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The FCC defines obscene material as describing sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way” and lacking “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Indecent material is not as offensive but still contains references to sex or excretions.

In an interview posted on MTV.com in the days before the show, Jackson’s choreographer, Gil Duldulao, talked about the show, saying: “She’s more stylized, she’s more feminine, she’s more a woman as she dances this time around. There are some shocking moments in there, too.”


Related

FCC chairman calls for bigger fines for broadcast indecency

Michael Powell says penalties should be 10 times higher as current fines are 'just the cost of doing business to a lot of producers.' 01.15.04

House panel blasts FCC over indecency standards
Republicans, Democrats take turns criticizing federal regulators, who they say haven't done enough to shield public from offensive programming on radio, TV. 01.29.04

Woman files suit over Super Bowl halftime show
Tennessean Terri Carlin alleges that she and others who watched performance were injured by musicians' lewd actions. 02.06.04

Utah lawyer sues Viacom over Super Bowl halftime show
Media company's attorney calls Eric Stephenson's claim that performance was falsely advertised a stretch, says show's content was protected by First Amendment. 05.25.04

CBS would fight any Super Bowl fines
Top parent-company executive says penalty for Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake performance would be 'grossly unfair.' 07.19.04

Super Bowl antics prompt debate about broadcast decency
Janet Jackson incident could have 'galvanizing effect' on the move to toughen standards, says FCC commissioner. 02.06.04

Flashpoint: Janet Jackson and government regulation of TV
By Ken Paulson It's a mistake to undermine free expression just because of the crassness of a Super Bowl halftime show. 02.06.04

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