FCC Slams Networks For Indecent Programming

CBS Says Ruling Too Harsh for Janet Jackson Incident

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Federal Communications Commission got tough yesterday, slamming a slew of broadcasters for their actions between February 2002 and March 2005. CBS stations got a particularly stinging slap -- a $3.6 million fine -- for an episode of "Without a Trace."
A teenage orgy? What the @$#%&*! were they thinking?

Newly public CBS Corp. was also turned down on its appeal of a ruling on the infamous "Nipplegate" moment during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. "The Commission rejects CBS' claim that the pulling off a portion of Janet Jackson's bustier to reveal her breast is not indecent." Charge: $550,000.

The decision clearly didn't sit well with the broadcasting giant. "CBS continues to disagree with the FCC's finding that the 2004 Super Bowl was legally indecent," a company statement said. "More than two years ago we apologized to viewers for the inappropriate and unexpected halftime incident. We will continue to pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights."

The statement said the company also "strongly disagrees" with the FCC's "Without a Trace" ruling. The Thursday night drama attracted complaints for showing a group of teenagers in various states of undress, but the spokeswoman noted that the program ran during the last hour of prime time and carried a "TV-14" V-Chip parental guideline.

"[The show] featured an important and socially relevant storyline warning parents to exercise greater supervision of their teenage children," she said. "The program was not unduly graphic or explicit, and we will pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights, while knowing that millions of Americans give their stamp of approval to 'Without a Trace' each week."

The 100-odd CBS affiliate stations that aired the show will be responsible for paying the multimillion-dollar fee. (Less than 10 of those are owned by CBS.) Watercooler calculates CBS sales departments would have to sell approximately 14 30-second spots for that show to make up for that fine.

CBS' former sibling company, VH-1, also received a rap for "The Surreal Life 2," which contained "numerous graphic, sexual images impermissible under the Commission's indecency standard."

The FCC wasn't completely draconian, however. Fox escaped fines for Nicole Richie's expletives during the Billboard Music Awards, but the FCC did take the opportunity to establish that "s**t" is still unacceptable for broadcast TV.

Meanwhile, the Parents Television Council blasted CBS for re-broadcasting the controversial "Without a Trace" episode just weeks after the FCC issued a so-called consent decree that bundled together and adjudicated a number of complaints. The decency-standards group claims that the consent decree states: "Viacom [now CBS Corp.] will also conduct training with respect to the indecency laws for all of its on-air talent and employees who materially participate in programming decisions."

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