WASHINGTON — Undeterred by Howard Stern’s public bashing Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission is putting finishing touches on a ruling that will likely fine 20 owned-and-operated CBS stations for airing Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl flash dance.
If the ruling’s adopted, the FCC would fine Eye O&Os $27,500 each for Jackson’s revealing moment, a total of $550,000, according to a source familiar with the matter. The recommendation is currently circulating among the five FCC commissioners and could be released in a matter of days.
The FCC is unlikely to hold Eye net affils accountable for the Super Bowl incident, according to the source, because they are not owned by Viacom/CBS.
Targeting just Viacom/CBS owned-and-operated stations is a way to punish the massive media conglom for making the decision to allow another one of its companies, MTV, to produce the halftime show, the source noted.
Viacom spokeswoman Susan Duffy said she could not comment about the FCC ruling until it was official. But Duffy noted that the company had conducted a “thorough investigation” into Jackson’s Super Bowl stunt and found that no one at CBS played a role or knew that it was going to occur.
“Obviously, no one wants these things to happen,” she said.
The action will cap a four-month national debate over what is appropriate for broadcasters to air on TV and radio that ignited when pop singer Justin Timberlake ripped away part of Jackson’s costume during the Super Bowl halftime show, briefly exposing her breast. More than half a million complaints flooded the FCC in the following weeks as parents’ groups and a chorus of lawmakers on Capitol Hill expressed outrage.
Soon Howard Stern was snared in the anti-smut aftermath as lawmakers held hearings excoriating the major media congloms for airing vulgar content. Radio giant Clear Channel yanked Stern from six of its stations to demonstrate its commitment to clean up its act. Viacom, meanwhile, has stood by its man, refusing to condemn Stern, although conglom publicly apologized for the Super Bowl incident.
Stern held a press conference Wednesday at which he lambasted the White House, Congress and the FCC for imposing the indecency crackdown, railing that it was having a “chilling” effect on broadcast content. Viacom/Infinity simultaneously announced that it was planning to air Stern’s show in the same markets where it was pulled by Clear Channel.
But Stern’s public lashing will likely have little impact on the federal government’s decision to hike fines. Bills boosting federal indecency fines hundreds of thousands of dollars have passed both houses of Congress.
Brian Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), who authored the Senate version, said he expects the two houses to hash out their differences when Congress returns from its July 4 recess and sends the final bill to the president in a matter of weeks.
“It’s smooth sailing from here on out,” Hart predicted.