May 4th, 2009
04:27 PM ET
12 years ago

Jackson 'wardrobe malfunction' case to be re-examined

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The Supreme Court has ordered a Pennsylvania federal appeals court to take another look at the case between CBS and the FCC."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The case of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" on national television - and subsequent fines against CBS - will be re-examined at the order of the Supreme Court.

The justices' Monday sent the case back to a federal appeals court in Philadelphia that had thrown out a $550,000 government fine against the broadcast network and its affiliates for airing the incident during halftime of the 2004 Super Bowl. The pop singer's breast was briefly exposed during a performance with singer Justin Timberlake.

After viewer complaints and national media attention, the Federal Communications Commission said the Jackson incident was obscene. In addition to CBS Inc., 20 of its affiliates also were fined.

Congress quickly reacted at the time to the visual shocker by increasing the limit on indecency fines tenfold, up to $325,000 per violation per network. And it said each local affiliate that aired such incidents also could be punished by the same amount.

But the federal appeals court concluded the communications commission had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously."

The Supreme Court's action marks the second time in recent days that it has dealt with cases involving broadcast standards. Last week, the justices narrowly upheld the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to punish networks for airing profanity.

The government clampdown on obscene images and words began in 2003. Enforcement of the law, as well as fines and sanctions for the incidents, have been put on hold while the cases are being argued.

The television networks say their scripted shows no longer air nudity, racy images or expletives, even after 10 p.m., when some potentially vulgar words are permitted.

They worry, however, about unplanned, often spontaneous indecent or profane incident at live events, such as awards shows and sporting events.

Company officials say such programs are often on a five-second delay, and censors are on hand to bleep any offensive language. But some indecent words can slip through, they admit, and they want to be protected from heavy government fines.

Critics call that laughable. "This past summer, CBS edited into a show that had to go through multiple reviews, by multiple people in the organization, the F-word," said Tim Winter, who heads the Parents Television Council, and is supporting the Federal Communications Commission's efforts. His group advocates "responsible" programming, and warns parents about questionable program content. The show in question was "Big Brother 10," a taped series.

The Jackson incident was not on a five-second delay.

In the case involving profane language, the high court concluded 5-4 that the communications commission has the authority to sanction broadcast TV networks that air isolated incidents of profanity, known as "fleeting expletives."

But the justices in that case refused to decide whether the commission's policy violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. It ruled only on their enforcement power. The justices ordered the free-speech aspect to be reviewed again by a federal appeals court.

The "wardrobe malfunction" case is FCC v. CBS Corp. (08-653).

Filed under: Popular Posts • Supreme Court
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I don't understand why this is an issue 5 years after the fact.

    May 4, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  2. william,oregon

    If the FCC will not do anything about Hate talk shows. CBS should be off the hook.

    May 4, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  3. Terry, Cape Coral, Florida

    Knee jerk reactions always rise to the level of stupidity in the end and generally speaking, the most stupid people in the world reside in the United States Congress, no matter what there party affiliation is....

    May 4, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. Meg

    Its a waste of money honestly.. that money can be used on different stuff that are actually more important

    May 4, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  5. JDFrakes

    Come on folks, use your heads. This was a spontaneous act committed by two people live. Punishing the networks and affiliates exacts a pound of flesh from everyone except the people who actually committed the crime.

    May 4, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  6. Maggie

    Oh good grief. If a 'wardrobe malfunction' is such an obscenity, then what about commercials for erectile dysfunction and KY? Sorry, those are MUCH more 'obscene' than a wardrobe malfunction where nobody saw anything in the first place.

    The entire furor over the malfunction was stupid, juvenile and ridiculous. Why haven't they gone after the commercials who are openly discussing ED? Do we really want our children to ask what ED is? After all, that is something very obscene to have on television... imagine - we might actually have to 'talk' to our children about sexual issues!

    May 4, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  7. Jackson trial for the boobs

    Reexamine the evidence? By all means, lets have Janet whip out that 36 c againand let's all have a second look.

    Has this country nothing better to do? The FCC is obvioulsy made up of a bunch of boobs.

    May 4, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  8. Alex

    It was a boob, omg, it is the end of world! what are we going to do now?!!!!???!!!

    .... get over it, there are more important things in life.

    May 4, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  9. Angela

    I still don't understand why Janet Jackson is the only one being blamed.. Justin Timberlake is the one who RIPPED her costume off!!! Timberlake is the true culprit- I wonder why he isn't receiving much heat... maybe b/c this is America...???

    May 4, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
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    May 4, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  11. namless

    If they can show brest on cable tv why not
    I've see all the time on tv.

    May 4, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
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