CBS could face a Federal Communications Commission fine of for each of 20 CBS-owned stations, The Associated Press reported last month. An FCC staff recommendation did not call for fining CBS affiliates that aired the Super Bowl halftime show but are not owned by Viacom.
A fine would be "grossly unfair," Leslie Moonves, Viacom co-president and co-chief operating officer, told the Television Critics Association on Sunday.
Although the network regretted the Jackson incident and has added a five-second precautionary delay for live events, Moonves said, such an approach is not feasible for news or sports.
"We think the idea of a fine for that is patently ridiculous and we're not going to stand for it," he said. "We're going to take that to the courts if it happens. ... It's perilously dangerous."
Since the Super Bowl, the network's standards and practices department that monitors program content is "is being maybe a little bit tougher, especially on things that we feel are gratuitous," he said.
CBS hasn't set new guidelines for its producers but has told them, according to Moonves: "Look, be aware of what's going on in the world ... and let's just be smart about it."
But, he added, "in no way, shape or form have we changed any story lines. We still encourage our producers to walk the edge and tell edgy stories."
The MTV-produced Feb. 1 Super Bowl show watched by some 90 million featured Jackson and singer Justin Timberlake in a duet that ended with .
The FCC, hit by more than 500,000 complaints, stepped up its anti-decency enforcement after the incident. The U.S. Senate and House have gone on record seeking higher penalties for indecency.
Asked if he thought the issue would fade after the presidential election year, Moonves said he was unsure but expressed doubt.
"It seems to be a fairly easy issue, because who out there isn't against indecency? So it's clearly a lightning road in Washington right now, and we have to pay attention to it."
Viacom has more at stake in the debate. Its Infinity Radio unit owns the majority of stations that airs Howard Stern, the radio shock jock who for both Infinity and another broadcaster, Clear Channel Communications.
By Lynn Elber