It’s a mixed day for broadcasters at the U.S. Supreme Court — but with a limited win for CBS in the case of Janet Jackson’s famously exposed nipple in her performance with Justin Timberlake at the 2004 Super Bowl. Justices upheld a lower court ruling that overturned the FCC‘s $550,000 fine against the network for violating rules that limit indecent broadcasts. It was unclear at the time whether the FCC’s ban on fleeting expletives also applied to fleeting images, Chief Justice John Roberts said — adding, though, that Jackson and Timberlake “strained the credulity of the public by terming the episode a ‘wardrobe malfunction’.” Since then, the FCC has clarified its rules somewhat. “It is now clear that the brevity of an indecent broadcast—be it word or image—cannot immunize it from FCC censure,” he says. As a result, “any future ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ will not be protected” on the same grounds.
Separately, the Supreme Court said it would not review broadcasters’ appeal of the FCC’s media ownership rules, including ones that restrict the ability of a company to own a newspaper and TV station in the same market. Several companies and lobby groups — including Media General, Tribune, Fox, and the Newspaper Association of America — said that regulators didn’t go far enough in 2008 when they relaxed cross-ownership rules. Regulators and consumer advocates said that the restrictions were still needed to ensure a diversity of voices in local markets. But the companies said they needed more flexibility to compete, especially with pay TV. National Association of Broadcasters’s Dennis Wharton says the group is “disappointed,” with the Court’s decision. The lobby group “will continue to advocate for modernizing ownership rules that stem from an era of I Love Lucy.”
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