FCC's Bad Math: Half-Million-Dollar Fine For Half A Second Of Breast?

A recent episode of TNT's "Saving Grace" had a bunch of expletives--and got no notice. The word "shit" was used about five or so times in one episode, lasting about five seconds in total time.  

There's too much malaise in the world for people to notice--or, more accurately, the goalposts of social convention and language have moved.

When it comes to broadcast television, the Federal Communication Commission also wants to keep those posts moving--seemingly backwards, as well as up and down the field, perhaps up in the stands.  

A federal appeals court says the FCC needs to do more  -- like give broadcasters and TV programmers some notice when changing rules, especially in regard to its $550,000 fine to CBS for being a part of the Janet Jackson breast-revealing incident during  a halftime performance of the 2004 Super Bowl.

A key question: What, if anything, should be the punishment for an incident of fleeting nudity? Surely, the court says, it shouldn't be half a million dollars.

By all estimates it was an accident, according to the court, that singer Justin Timberlake ripped Jackson's bustier. The court said the FCC needed to factor this in, as well as fact that CBS shouldn't be responsible for the actions of two "independent contractors" for its determination of the incident.

Something else to consider, the court said: The actual elapsed time of the exposure of Jackson's breast was "nine-sixteenths of one second." And, visually, probably one-sixtieth of an entire TV screen.

In other words, context matters. Parental groups and the FCC want to punish CBS, as if the incident was preplanned. But we know they want to punish CBS for not just the fleeting breast, but the racy song, the scandalous dancing, and a too-adult costume during a so-called "family" TV program.

Over on the cable/satellite distributors, programmers can essentially do whatever they want. By the way, that's where 89.5% of U.S. homes get their TV programming--as long as advertisers keep buying, I suppose.

And just for the record, those nearly 90% of U.S. homes watched Jackson's breast through cable and satellite systems. What does that tell you? That they don't mind inappropriate content on cable channels... but not on broadcast? No.

Those who complained--if you can believe 500,000 individual FCC complaints, not form letters or duplicates--represent 0.5% of those who watched the Super Bowl that day (around 100 million viewers).

You want the real story? Look at all the numbers.

Tags: tv
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