Where were you during the Janet Jackson breast-baring Super Bowl halftime show?
Chances are, you were probably watching it. And you definitely remember it, but you’ve likely moved on.
As unbelievable as it is that that nine-sixteenths of one second is causing so much trouble, the underlying issues are actually important ones — how much trouble can a network get in over live events it (theoretically) has no control over or the re-broadcast of events of historical record.
Showing war images in real time, for example, could mean a soldier taking fire says the F word on camera. Some local stations refused to carry a Peabody award-winning documentary — that they had already played — because they feared offensive words not edited out would earn them an indecency fine following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in FCC v. Fox Television Stations addressing vulgar language, which said the FCC was reasonable in banning even “fleeting expletives.”
Sharon Duffy of The Legal Intelligencer has a full report on both the expletives case and the Janet Jackson case here.
It was 8 months ago that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the 3rd Circuit to consider reinstating the $550,000 in fines that the FCC imposed on CBS, in light of the Fox decision.
As the Legal Intelligencer notes, the briefing on the case, including “a flurry” of amicus briefs, shows several things. First, it is difficult to compare a breast-baring case with a bad language case. Second, the battle lines are predictable.
Conservatives and family values groups say Fox says the fine should be reinstated, with one group arguing that the courts have “ignored the societal interest in decency.” The brief also says Americans are now “bombarded by degrading, indecent, coarse, and sexually charged content on an almost round-the-clock basis.”
An amicus brief on behalf of Fox Television says that the First Amendment requires knowing conduct on the part of the network or broadcaster before a fine should be imposed and that the FCC’s approach “unquestionably” chills protected speech.
Fleeting baring of a jewel adorned breast raises serious questions — and Janet Jackson’s moment at the 50-yard line could have a long-term impact on what comes to a television near you.
The Legal Intelligencer’s full report, with greater detail on the legal arguments, is definitely worth a read.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.