Los Angeles Times

CBS Pays, Appeals Nipplegate Fine

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CBS has paid the $550,000 fine the Federal Communications Commission assessed it for Janet Jackson's bared breast at the 2004 Super Bowl. But the network has not given up its fight against what it considers an unjust penalty.

The network paid the fine on Friday -- but only because it's a procedural requirement in taking its case to the 3rd District Court of Appeals, where it will argue that the incident was not indecent and ask for its money back.

"Payment does not mean that CBS in any way is admitting to a violation of the FCC's indecency rules," the network says in a statement.

In announcing its intent to appeal the decision, CBS again notes that it has "apologized to the American people for the inappropriate and unexpected halftime incident and immediately implemented safeguards that have governed similar broadcasts ever since."

CBS has long argued that it didn't know about the "costume reveal" that resulted in Jackson's breast being exposed for less than a second. (Justin Timberlake, who was doing a duet with Jackson, was apparently supposed to tear away only part of her bustier, but whatever was underneath came off with it.) The halftime show that year was produced by MTV, which was then a corporate cousin of CBS in the Viacom empire. CBS and other ex-Viacom properties spun off into the CBS Corp. early this year.

Because it wasn't involved in producing the show, CBS argues, the FCC shouldn't have ruled that the network was trying to "pander to, titillate and shock" viewers, which is one of the criteria for an indecency ruling. The commission didn't see it that way, noting at the time of its ruling that CBS had promoted the Super Bowl halftime show as one that would offer several surprises.

The incident provoked a flood of complaints to the FCC and led Congress to increase the commission's fining power. After several tries, the new fines of $325,000 per incident, a tenfold increase over the previous limit, became law in June.

Separate from the Super Bowl incident, CBS and its fellow Big Four broadcast networks have taken the FCC to court over more than $3 million in fines -- the bulk of which came for an episode of CBS' "Without a Trace" -- levied in March. The networks and station owner Hearst-Argyle argue that the rulings are unconstitutional and that the FCC's standards for indecency are vague and inconsistent.

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