You all remember the Janet Jackson 2004 Super Bowl “Wardrobe Malfunction“, I’m sure. The Federal Communications Commission slapped CBS television with a $550,000 fine over that, but today a federal appeals court threw out the forfeiture, ruling the FCC “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in fining the network.
“The Commission’s determination that CBS’s broadcast of a nine-sixteenths of one second glimpse of a bare female breast was actionably indecent evidenced the agency’s departure from its prior policy,” the judges said. “Its orders constituted the announcement of a policy change — that fleeting images would no longer be excluded from the scope of actionable indecency.”
“This is an important win for the entire broadcasting industry because it recognizes that there are rare instances, particularly during live programming,” CBS said in a statement, “when it may not be possible to block unfortunate fleeting material, despite best efforts.”
My Janet Jackson Flash mini-site proves that the “malfunction” was nothing of the sort, but rather planned — but note the exposure there isn’t limited to 9/16 seconds, and is thus “not safe for work.”
The page also has my story about the stunt, written on the day it happened. I didn’t believe it was accidental that day, and I certainly don’t now.
The court noted that the singers were “independent contractors” (vs. CBS employees) and that CBS shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. The decision sounds like (dare I say it?) common sense to me, and I applaud it. I think Jackson did it as a publicity stunt, but it backfired. If anyone should be liable for a fine it’s her, and it appears to me her career has suffered from the stunt, rather than getting a boost.
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