Third Circuit throws out FCC fine for Super Bowl mishap

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] on Wednesday threw out [opinion, PDF] a fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] against CBS. The $550,000 fine was issued as a result of the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" during the halftime show of the 2004 Super Bowl. The Third Circuit issued a similar ruling on the case in 2008, but that case was sent back by the Supreme Court in May 2009 after it ruled [opinion, PDF] on a similar case. In the opinion issued Wednesday, the court reaffirmed the reasoning behind its first opinion, which found that the FCC could not levy the fine because that would represent a retroactive shift in policy:

The Commission's exception for fleeting material under that regulatory scheme likewise treated images and words alike. Three decades of FCC action support this conclusion. Accordingly, we find the FCC's conclusion on this issue, even as an interpretation of its own policies and precedent, counter to the evidence before the agency and so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.
CBS said they were happy with the outcome. The biggest supporter of the fine, the Parents Television Council [advocacy website], called the ruling an act of "judicial stupidity" [press release] and "a sucker punch to families everywhere."

The $550,000 fine was directed [JURIST report] at CBS and 20 affiliates in September 2004 as a result of the broadcast. CBS appealed [JURIST report] the fine in July 2006. The Supreme Court remanded [JURIST report] the case to the Third Circuit in May 2009 for reconsideration in light of its decision in FCC v. Fox Television Stations [JURIST report]. This is also not the only issue CBS has had with the FCC. In March 2006 the FCC imposed [JURIST report] a record $3.6 million fine for indecency violations against CBS and its affiliates as a result of the network airing a graphic sex scene on one of its shows.

 

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