CBS asked a federal appeals court on Friday to set aside the $550,000 fine by the Federal Communications Commission against the broadcaster for airing Janet Jackson’s breast-baring performance during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
The television network argued the fine was “unconstitutional, contrary to the Communications Act and FCC rules and generally arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law.”
The petition for review was filed in the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. CBS agreed to turn over the fine money, a prerequisite for filing the appeal.
CBS noted in a statement that it had apologized for “the inappropriate and unexpected” episode and had put in place safeguards to prevent a recurrence. “However, we disagree strongly with the FCC’s conclusions and will continue to pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights,” the network said.
The FCC said it would fight to uphold the fine.
“CBS’ continued insistence that the halftime show was not indecent demonstrates that it is out of touch with the American people,” said FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper. “Millions of parents, as well as Congress, understand what CBS does not: Janet Jackson’s ’wardrobe malfunction’ was indeed indecent.”
The halftime show aired on Feb. 1, 2004, to an estimated audience of 90 million. During a musical number, singer Justin Timberlake pulled off part of Jackson’s bustier, briefly exposing one of her breasts.
After a flood of complaints, the FCC issued a fine against the network and each of 20 network-owned stations that aired the show, totaling $550,000.
The breast-baring episode kicked off a record year for indecency fines imposed by the agency and led to Congress passing a tenfold increase in the maximum fines for indecent broadcasting.
The FCC already was embroiled in court fights over fines it issued on March 15 penalizing foul language in a number of television shows. Several major broadcasters asked federal courts in New York and the District of Columbia to overturn the fines.