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FCC Defends Jackson Smackdown

The FCC Friday said it was reasonable to conclude that Janet Jackson's "brief" display of nudity during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004 violated the FCC's indecency rules. As it did in its defense of profanity decisions before another appeals court last week, the commission took aim at the V-chip.

In its brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia in CBS' challenge of the indecency finding, the commission said that it was also reasonable to find that CBS' violation was willful and therefore its owned stations deserved to be fined (a total of $550,000). That's because Jackson and Justin Timberlake were effectively CBS employees, with CBS liable for their conduct, said the FCC.

The FCC says CBS "ignored" warnings that the pair might do something inappropriate,citing a statement from Jackson's choreographer that the show would have "some shocking moments."

As to the suggestion that the V-chip is a more narrowly tailored means of protecting children from indecent broadcasts, the commission said that the chip is not available on older sets, is "generally ineffective" because most people don't know they have it or how to use it if they do have it, and even if it weren't ineffective, the show had no V-chip rating because it was a sporting event, which are unrated. And even if it were rated, it said, those ratings are frequently inaccurate.

Broadcasters have been promoting use of the V-chip in hopes that it, rather than FCC regulation, will become the least restrictive means of regulating broadcast speech.

The FCC said that its channeling of indecent speech to 10 p.m.-6 a.m. protected children while allowing adults "reasonable access" to adult material.

And adults who want to watch such programming outside of that harbor have a host of options, the FCC said, including cable, video stores or "VCR equipment." It did not mention DVRs, however.