WASHINGTON -- Janet Jackson's exposed breast was the talk of
Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with lawmakers and regulators saying
it's the latest example of all that's wrong with TV and should
serve as the impetus for government to get tough with broadcasters.
At a pair of hearings, lawmakers excoriated Mel Karmazin,
president of Viacom Inc. His company owns CBS, which broadcast the
raunchy Super Bowl halftime show that included Jackson.
Members of the House Telecommunications Committee spent more
than two hours grilling Karmazin, who again apologized for the show
that ended with singer Justin Timberlake tearing off part of
Jackson's top and exposing her right breast to 90 million TV
"You knew what you were doing," said Rep. Heather Wilson,
R-N.M., her voice cracking. "You wanted us to be all abuzz. It
lines your pockets."
Karmazin insisted that CBS and MTV did not know about plans to
rip off Jackson's top, nor the crotch-grabbing dance steps that
were also included in the halftime show. He said none of those
actions took place during rehearsals.
"Everyone at Viacom and everyone at CBS and everyone at MTV was
shocked and appalled and embarrassed at what had happened,"
To prevent a repeat, he said CBS will air live programming on a
five-minute delay, which was done for the Grammy awards this week.
He said the network-owned stations would also buy equipment so that
locally televised live programs would also be time-delayed. And he
said the network was reviewing its standards for commercials in
response to criticism over a movie trailer for a horror film and
Super Bowl ads showing a flatulent horse and a crotch-biting dog.
The halftime show, produced by CBS' corporate cousin MTV, drew
more than 200,000 complaints to the Federal Communications
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, also testifying before the
House panel, said he expressed concerns about the halftime show in
December and even considered dismissing MTV as producer. But he
decided to move forward following a meeting with CBS President Les
Moonves, and because of MTV's track record in producing the 2001
"Clearly, there was a wide gap over what was appropriate,"
Tagliabue said. "We should have recognized it earlier. We gave the
keys to the car to someone else to drive without assuring they knew
how to drive the car safely, and they crashed."
All five FCC commissioners appeared before the House panel and
the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and urged
Congress to give them a more powerful tool to use against
Legislation in both houses would increase the maximum fine for
indecency from $27,500 to $275,000. The FCC already has said it
will begin fining broadcasters for each incident rather than each
"Cost-of-doing-business fines will never stop Big Media's slide
to the bottom," Commissioner Michael Copps said. "All of the
fines we have imposed against Viacom could be paid for by adding
one commercial to the Super Bowl, and the company would probably
end up with a profit."
Viacom is no stranger to the fight over indecency. Its Infinity
Broadcasting subsidiary paid $1.7 million in 1995 to settle several
cases against disc jockey Howard Stern, and the FCC last year
proposed fining the company $357,000 for a radio segment on the
"Opie and Anthony Show" in which a couple was said to be having
sex in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Viacom is contesting the fine for its broadcast of the Opie and
Anthony show. Karmazin said the show was tasteless and gross, but
He called on the FCC to issue rules defining what is an indecent
"What's happened is the standard has changed," Karmazin said.
"It is not exactly clear what is meant by indecency."
FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the commission has been able to
enforce indecency standards for decades, and doesn't need to go
through a time-consuming process to write a rule.
"It's a red herring," Powell said. "There is no ambiguity
with the indecency standard. It's existed for 30 years."