Net Prepares Indecency Challenge

WASHINGTON CBS today said it was paying a proposed $550,000 fine so it could legally challenge regulators who ruled that the baring of Janet Jackson’s breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime broadcast was indecent.

The payment, submitted only because it is a prerequisite for legal action, and the court challenge were both to be filed today, the network said in a statement. CBS said it would ask the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s finding that the brief breast exposure violated federal indecency law.

“We disagree strongly with the FCC’s conclusions and will continue to pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights,” the network said. It called the halftime incident “inappropriate and unexpected” and said it had taken steps to prevent a recurrence.

The case follows another challenge to indecency enforcement in which major networks joined to contest parts of a series of FCC rulings released in March. Initial hearings have yet to take place.

The maneuvering comes after several years of stepped-up indecency enforcement by the FCC. Since 2003, the agency has proposed $12.3 million in fines for broadcast indecency. Total proposed fines were less than $100,000 for each of the eight years before that.

President Bush recently signed legislation increasing the maximum fine for broadcast indecency tenfold, to $325,000. The bill otherwise did not amend federal law that prohibits the transmission of indecent material from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when children are likely to be in the audience. The law applies to broadcast radio and TV, but not to cable or satellite programming.