An Expensive 0.59375 Second Wardrobe Malfunction

After receiving more than 542,000 complaints, the FCC assessed a $550,000 fine, the statutory maximum, against CBS for broadcasting the Super Bowl halftime show’s “wardrobe malfunction.” The fine was assessed on 20 CBS-owned local stations and not the other 200 independently-owned affiliates that broadcast the halftime show.
Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture

At the outset, review of the Broadcast Videotape leaves no doubt that the Jackson/Timberlake segment is both explicit and graphic. The joint performance by Ms. Jackson and Mr. Timberlake culminated in Mr. Timberlake pulling off part of Ms. Jackson’s bustier and exposing her bare breast. CBS admits that the CBS Network Stations broadcast this material, including the image of Ms. Jackson’s bared breast, but argues that the exposure of her breast was unexpected and the duration of the exposure was for only 19/32 of a second. Although the exposure was brief, it was clearly graphic.

Powell: “As countless families gathered around the television to watch one of our Nation’s most celebrated events, they were rudely greeted with a halftime show stunt more fitting of a burlesque show.”
Copps: “I am concerned by the precedent we establish in failing to assess a penalty against non-Viacom-owned affiliates that aired the Super Bowl.”
Adelstein: “I find today’s remedy totally inadequate. After all the bold talk, it’s a slap on the wrist that can be paid with just 71⁄2 seconds of Super Bowl ad time. The $550,000 fine measures up to only about a dollar per complaint for the more than 542,000 complaints that flooded into the FCC after the broadcast. … I fear that today we’re responding to a “wardrobe malfunction” with a regulatory malfunction.”