FCC Firm On Super Bowl Indecency Fine

Singer Janet Jackson, left, covers her breast after her outfit came undone during a number with Justin Timberlake during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Sunday, Feb. 1, 2004. AP

Federal regulators will stick by their decision to slap CBS with a $550,000 fine for the Janet Jackson flash at the 2004 Super Bowl.

They also plan new sanctions against Fox, NBC and CBS TV stations or affiliates for violating decency standards, according to people familiar with the matter.

The two sources, who declined to be identified ahead of a public announcement, said one of the decisions involves an appearance by Nicole Richie on the 2003 Billboard Music Awards on Fox. During the broadcast, she uttered the "F" word and the expletive for excrement.

It's believed to be the first time that the Federal Communications Commission will address the use of the second expletive on the public airwaves. The FCC has previously penalized networks for allowing the "F" word to be broadcast.

The sources would not say which broadcasters would face monetary penalties from the commission. Nor would they outline other programs that would be targeted in the decisions.

In the next couple of weeks, the agency is expected to release a batch of indecency rulings and dismissals of complaints — about 40 in all. There will be a mix of fines, about six, as well as a handful of sanctions that will essentially put broadcasters on notice that certain utterances or other actions could bring fines in the future. No dollar figures were given for any of the fines.

Calls to the FCC, CBS and NBC late Wednesday were not immediately returned. Fox declined to comment.

CBS had appealed the FCC's fine against 20 of its stations for Jackson's brief breast exposure during the Super Bowl halftime show two years ago, but the agency will affirm the decision, the sources said.

The indecency rulings will be the first issued by the commission in more than a year, and signal a renewed crackdown on coarse language over the airwaves. The sanctions will also be the first issued under FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who has complained to industry executives about indecent programming that children might see.

Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and 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 rules do not apply to cable or satellite television.

The current maximum fine for indecency is $32,500 per incident, but some lawmakers have called for boosting the penalty to as high as $500,000. There was overwhelming support for hiking fines in the months after the Janet Jackson incident, but legislation has fizzled in Congress despite bipartisan support.

Jennifer Kerr
  • Jennifer Hoar

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