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CBS Head Says Would Fight Fines Over Janet

LOS ANGELES – Viacom Inc. co-president and CBS chairman Leslie Moonves vowed on Sunday to fight any fines levied against CBS-owned TV stations for airing Janet Jackson’s breast-baring Super Bowl performance in February.

In defiant remarks to television critics at their annual summer meeting, Moonves said the government’s crackdown on indecency on the airwaves since Jackson’s notorious flash of nudity on his network is “coming dangerously close to infringing” on free speech. [Dangerously close?]

He said the notion of fining stations for airing the live Super Bowl halftime telecast on Feb. 1 is “patently ridiculous, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

“We’re going to take it up to the courts if that happens,” Moonves said, when asked about media reports that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission staff has proposed fines totaling $550,000 against 20 CBS-owned stations over the Super Bowl telecast. Sources said the 227 affiliate stations that aired the show but are not owned by Viacom would be spared fines under the FCC recommendations. The National Football League championship, one of the year’s most watched TV broadcasts, drew nearly 90 million viewers.

Jackson’s costume was ripped away by duet partner Justin Timberlake, briefly exposing her breast, at the end of a provocative halftime dance number that concluded with the lyric: “I gotta have you naked by the end of this song.”

The incident ignited a public outcry that led to an FCC probe, congressional action to stiffen fines for broadcast indecency and industry-wide moves to curtail sexually explicit material on TV and radio.

CBS and its sister cable music network MTV, which produced the halftime show, have insisted they did not know in advance about what Timberlake later called the “wardrobe malfunction.” CBS has since instituted a five-second delay on most of its live events.

A coalition of U.S. broadcasters, artist groups and media organizations filed a joint FCC petition in April warning federal regulators that harsher policies on indecency were having a chilling effect on free speech in the industry.

Moonves said he was hopeful that another frequent target of FCC action, shock jock Howard Stern, would renew his contract with Infinity Broadcast Inc., the Viacom unit that syndicates his ribald radio show.



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