Monday, February 02, 2004

Capitalism & Law: Can the FCC Protect us from Janet Jackson?

Although I enjoyed last night’s Super Bowl, I did not watch any of the halftime show, instead using that time to finish up some work. Only after the game did I learn of the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake incident. My first thought was, “Oh, great, now those dopes at the FCC will launch an ‘obscenity’ investigation.” Sadly, my instincts were dead on:
The chief federal regulator of broadcasting said Monday he is "outraged" by the Super Bowl halftime show which wound up with singer Justin Timberlake tearing off part of Janet Jackson's costume, exposing her breast.

Timberlake blamed a "wardrobe malfunction," but Federal Communications Commission chief Michael Powell called it "a classless, crass and deplorable stunt."

MTV, which produced the show, and CBS, which broadcast it, both said they had no idea that their halftime show Sunday night would include such a display.

"CBS deeply regrets the incident," spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade said.

The two singers were performing a flirtatious duet to end the halftime show, with Timberlake singing, Rock Your Body, and the lines he sang at the moment of truth were: "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song."

With that, Timberlake reached across Jackson's leather gladiator outfit and pulled off the covering to her right breast, which was partially obscured by a sun-shaped, metal nipple decoration.

The network quickly cut away from the shot, and did not mention the exposure on the air.

In a statement, Powell said, "I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better."

"I have instructed the commission to open an immediate investigation into last night's broadcast," he said, vowing it would be "thorough and swift." Earlier, an FCC spokeswoman, Suzanne Tetreault, said it was launching a routine investigation because it had received complaints.

Messages left with Jackson's record company and her personal publicist were not returned Monday morning.

The FCC has come under fire from lawmakers and outside groups who say the agency hasn't done enough to shield the public from indecent programming on radio and TV.
Last month the FCC fined Clear Channel $755,000 because a radio program contained “obscenity.” Members of Congress have proposed legislation to multiply the maximum obscenity fine tenfold. One FCC commissioner, Michael Copps, wants to revoke the broadcasting license of any television or radio station that broadcasts obscenity. (Of course, Copps also wants to stop media mergers that aren’t racially “diverse” in his opinion, but that’s another issue.)

At the end of the day, we’re making a big deal over a bare breast. Based on the photos I’ve seen of Ms. Jackson, I can honestly say I’ve seen National Geographic spreads that are more erotic. Not that I’m justifying what happened. But rest assured, the NFL is embarrassed enough by what happened to make sure this never happens on one of their broadcasts again. The FCC is not needed to protect us from “obscenity” and indecency.

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