A federal appeals court tossed out CBS Corp.’s $550,000 indecency fine imposed for Janet Jackson’s notorious "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 21 that the Federal Communications Commission "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" in issuing the fine for airing the fleeting, breast-baring mishap.
The court ruled the FCC veered from its nearly 30-year practice of fining indecent broadcast programming only when it was so "pervasive as to amount to ‘shock treatment’ for the audience."
The judges also ruled the FCC didn’t stick to its usual approach of applying identical standards to words and images in regard to complaints of indecency.
"The Commission’s determination that CBS’s broadcast of a nine-sixteenths of one second glimpse of a bare female breast was actionably indecent evidenced the agency’s departure from its prior policy," the court found. "Its orders constituted the announcement of a policy change – that fleeting images would no longer be excluded from the scope of actionable indecency."
CBS said in a statement it hoped the decision would prompt the FCC "to return to the policy of restrained indecency enforcement it followed for decades."
About 90 million people, many of them children, reportedly watched the Super Bowl halftime show when the costume snafu happened during Jackson’s duet with Justin Timberlake.