The Federal Communications Commission has ordered CBS to pay a fine of $550,000 for its Super Bowl halftime show, a record penalty for indecency. While the maximum penalty is currently set at $27,500, the FCC chose to fine each of the twenty TV stations owned by the CBS.
The network’s MTV-produced performance last February had culminated in pop star Justin Timberlake tearing away part of Janet Jackson’s bustier, revealing her right breast to the millions of viewers. Within twenty-four hours of her Super Bowl performance, Virgin Records began promoting the March release of Jackson’s album Damita Jo worldwide. (The album went on to debut at Number Two on the charts, but fell quickly.)
Timberlake was quick to issue an apology, famously citing a “wardrobe malfunction”; and both CBS and MTV claimed they’d known nothing about the stunt. But earlier that week Jackson’s choreographer had told MTV that “shocking moments” would play out during the program.
Jackson apologized two days later, claiming that a piece of lace was meant to remain in place to cover her breast, and that MTV had been aware of the choreographed moment. But the FCC, which had received a record 500,000 complaints, went forward with its investigation, and a viewer in Tennessee even initiated a multi-billion-dollar class-action lawsuit against all involved, including parent company Viacom (it was later dropped). Timberlake and Jackson were required to apologize on-air as a prerequisite of attending the Grammy Awards on February 9th: Timberlake did, but Jackson was a no-show and her boyfriend, producer Jermaine Dupri, resigned as president of the Atlanta chapter of the Grammys in protest.
Shortly after receiving the ruling yesterday, CBS issued a statement saying it is considering its options, and maintaining its innocence. “We continue to believe that nothing in the Super Bowl broadcast violated indecency laws,” stated the network. “Furthermore, our investigation proved that no one in our company had any advance knowledge about the incident.” CBS has thirty days to appeal the FCC decision.
Congress is currently considering raising the maximum fine for a single count of indecency to between $275,000 and $500,000.