And let’s hope this is the last we hear of a certain wardrobe malfunction.
The long-running legal saga involving the escape of Janet Jackson’s right breast during the halftime show of the 2004 Super Bowl has apparently come to an end as a federal appeals court today tossed out the $550,000 indecency fine against CBS Corp.
In its ruling, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Federal Communications Commission “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” when it issued the pricey penalty against the network for the boob slippage.
For those who’ve enjoyed the underside of their rock for the past four years, the brouhaha began when 90 million viewer were treated to a glance of the “Nasty” singer’s goods during a duet with Justin Timberlake.
While crooning, “Gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” Timberlake yanked off Jackson’s bustier, revealing her strategically placed nipple shield in what became a made-for-TiVo moment.
The move upset several conservative watchdogs, including the powerful Parents Television Council, which lobbied the FCC and demanded a big fine—even though broadcaster CBS, Jackson and Timberlake said the incident was accidental, with Timberlake famously referring to it as a “wardrobe malfunction.”
But the FCC wasn’t buying it and slapped the network and its affiliates with the monster fine.
But in today’s decision, the three-judge appellate panel ruled that the FCC had overreacted and ignored its 30-year practice of only fining for indecent programming that is “pervasive as to amount to ‘shock treatment’ for the audience.” Nipplegate didn’t fit the bill, the justice’s ruled.
“Like any agency, the FCC may change its policies without judicial second-guessing,” the court said. “But it cannot change a well-established course of action without supplying notice of and a reasoned explanation for its policy departure.”
The panel also said CBS shouldn’t be held financially accountable for the singers’ actions because they weren’t network staffers. “The FCC cannot impose liability on CBS for the acts of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, independent contractors hired for the limited purposes of the halftime show.”
Following the ruling, CBS said it hoped the FCC would “return to the policy of restrained indecency enforcement it followed for decades.”
“This is an important win for the entire broadcasting industry because it recognizes that there are rare instances, particularly during live programming, when it may not be possible to block unfortunate fleeting material, despite best efforts,” the network said.
No immediate comment from the FCC, Jackson or Timberlake—but the Parents Television Council was predictably infuriated.
“Once again, a three-judge panel has hijacked the will of the American people,” said Tim Winter, president of the PTC. “While we are not surprised that the legal venue hand-picked by CBS would rule in favor of the network, the court’s opinion goes beyond judicial activism; it borders on judicial stupidity.
“If a striptease during the Super Bowl in front of 90 million people— including millions of children—doesn’t fit the parameters of broadcast indecency, then what does?”
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