FCC Punishment of Janet Jackson's Boob Sags, Falls Flat
It was the Nip Heard Round the World. Almost everyone can picture the image of Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson's costume during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, revealing Jackson's jewelry-laden breast. The Janet Jackson incident, which even spawned a new phrase -- "wardrobe malfunction" -- caused George Bush's Federal Communications Commission to change long-standing policy and penalize broadcasters for "fleeting," unplanned utterances and portrayals of "indecency" during live broadcasts. Now another federal appeals court has told the FCC to "fu*k off."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit joined its sister court from the Second Circuit in ruling that the FCC went too far in penalizing CBS for the Janet Jackson incident, which led to a new FCC policy of sanctioning broadcasters for airing fleeting utterances of profanity during live awards programs. According to the court, the evidence showed that the Janet Jackson Wardrobe Malfunction incident was unscripted, unintentional, and was aired live, so that CBS could not have prevented it. Additionally, the court held that CBS was not responsible for the behavior of Jackson and Timberlake, who were acting as independent contractors. The court also noted that the supposed outpouring of complaints to the FCC after the Janet Jackson incident was in part a form letter-writing campaign instigated by political groups.
So now at least two regions of the country are not bound by the FCC's "fleeting utterance" punishment policy. Of course, the FCC could appeal the latest ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, given its current right-wing tilt, will probably order Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake to be tortured, er, "enhanced interrogated." But for now, at least, we have a bit more sanity when dealing with profanity.