The Parents Television Council blasted an appeals court for upholding their earlier decision to throw out a $550,000 indecency fine against CBS for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, where Justin Timberlake ripped off Jackson’s bustier unveiling her bare breast on live television.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled on Wednesday that the Federal Communications Commission had improperly fined the network for the incident, standing by their original ruling in 2008 to the shock of family organizations.
“Today’s ruling reaches the level of judicial stupidity and is a sucker-punch to families everywhere,” said PTC President Tim Winter in a statement.
“In rendering an opinion it wishes to foist on the nation, the Third Circuit has chosen to ignore the law, the facts, Supreme Court precedent, the intent of the Congress and the will of the American people.”
The Supreme Court had asked the panel to reconsider its 2008 opinion in light of a high court Fox television ruling where the FCC was given the right to levy fines for fleeting expletives used on live television.
Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell stated, however, that the Fox ruling did not negate their 2008 decision but instead confirmed their opinion.
They believed the FCC had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when fining CBS and did not give media companies proper warning about changes in its indecent enforcement policies.
Consequently, the appeals court threw out for the second time CBS’ large fine, siding with the broadcaster.
“The balance of evidence weighs heavily against the FCC’s contention that its restrained enforcement policy for fleeting words extended only to fleeting words and not to fleeting images,” CNN quoted Rendell as saying. “An agency may not apply a policy to penalize conduct that occurred before the policy was announced.”
Responding to Wednesday’s ruling, a commission spokesman for FCC said, “While we are disappointed by the court of appeals decision, we note that the court overturned the FCC’s 2006 forfeiture order on narrow procedural grounds. In the meantime, the FCC will continue to use all of the authority at its disposal to ensure that the nation’s broadcasters fulfill the public interest responsibilities that accompany their use of the public airwaves.”
Family advocacy groups like the PTC were more forthright in their disappointment.
“When CBS aired the now-infamous Janet Jackson striptease, the response was an unprecedented national uproar with the largest spontaneous outpouring of FCC complaints in its history. The event became the biggest news story for weeks, even during a time of war. Congress held hearings and passed legislation increasing the fines for broadcast indecency violators. And a new pop-culture expression of ‘wardrobe malfunction’ was coined,” Winter shared.
“How can nudity and a striptease in front of 90 million unsuspecting TV viewers not qualify as indecency? We’re not talking about content that aired after 10 pm in front of 90 million adults. Each and every year the Super Bowl broadcast draws the highest viewership ratings of the year, including tens of millions of children and families.”
“Despite the reality of what happened, the Third Circuit suggests that the FCC’s ruling was ‘counter to the evidence before the agency.’ In the Court’s eye, what exactly could be more shocking or more deserving of a broadcast indecency charge?” the PTC president questioned.
“We urge the FCC and our nation’s High Court to include this outrageous Circuit Court opinion in its judicial review of the broadcast decency law, which is currently before the Court.”
The FCC is unsure whether or not they will appeal the ruling. According to the Los Angeles Times, a spokesman said the matter was under review.