CBS to Review Its Ad Guidelines

WASHINGTON, D.C. Viacom president and COO Mel Karmazin on Wednesday told lawmakers here that CBS would review its guidelines for “taste” in programming and in ads as a result of the furor surrounding the network’s Super Bowl halftime show in which singer Janet Jackson exposed one of her breasts.

Karmazin also told reporters after the hearing that CBS had received complaints about a Super Bowl spot promoting Universal’s upcoming vampire movie Van Helsing. The spot featured monsters, talon-winged beasts and other frightening fare. “We’ve had some questions on taste,” Karmazin said.

During the daylong hearing before the House telecommunications subcommittee, Karamazin told lawmakers that CBS and its MTV unit had no warning of the Super Bowl halftime stunt that ended with Jackson’s right breast exposed before a national audience.

“Everyone was shocked and appalled and embarrassed” by the Feb. 1 incident, Karmazin testified. He said Jackson and her choreographer switched plans for the show’s ending at the last minute, and fellow performer Justin Timberlake was unaware that the piece of costume he ripped off would expose bare flesh rather than undergarments.

Karmazin’s testimony came as the panel met to consider a bill to increase tenfold, to $275,000, the maximum fine for broadcast indecency. Republicans and Democrats alike praised the initiative and predicted speedy passage, while lambasting networks for a lack of self-discipline. Karmazin said he would not oppose higher fines, but he coupled that judgment with a plea that federal regulators be aware they need not levy the highest penalty in every case.

Karmazin said CBS (like MTV, a Viacom subsidiary) would participate in a private industry initiative to set broadcast standards. The industry abandoned a previous set of standards in the early 1980s under challenge from federal antitrust regulators who were concerned over restrictions on the amount of time that could be devoted to ads.

Appearing alongside Karmazin, National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue said his league had difficult negotiations with MTV in the run up to the half time show, with MTV “resisting disclosure” about the program’s content.

In the afternoon, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, told the lawmakers his agency plans to step up indecency enforcement. “The commission has already begun wielding its sword,” Powell said, referring to recent proposed fines for Viacom subsidiary Infinity Broadcasting and against Clear Channel Communications.

Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, said that more needs to be done. “So far we don’t have any results to crow about,” Copps said.