CV Applauds Overturning of FCC’s Janet Jackson Fine



After the Supreme Court in Fox v. FCC remanded the Janet Jackson case back for review, the Third Circuit again found in CBS v. FCC that the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency decision and $550,000 fine against CBS in the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime case were “arbitrary and capricious,” and therefore unlawful. Press coverage and the Court’s opinion are below.

After the Third Circuit’s initial decision in the case, we commented:

The Center for Creative Voices in Media applauds today’s ruling by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals that the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency decision and $550,000 fine against CBS in the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime case were “arbitrary and capricious,” and therefore unlawful.

As both the Third Circuit in this case and the Second Circuit in last year’s Fox v. FCC case (Cher and Nicole Ritchie “fleeting expletives”) found, overly broad FCC decisions on what constitutes “indecency” that arbitrarily overturn decades of Commission precedent put creative, challenging, controversial, non-homogenized broadcast television programming at risk. In many cases, the very kinds of television programs that parents want their children to watch – high quality documentaries, histories, and dramas – have been impacted. Thus, the chilling effect of these now-overturned Commission decisions harmed not only media artists, but the American public. We documented this chilling effect in our report, Big Chill: How the FCC’s Indecency Decisions Stifle Free Expression, Threaten Quality Television, and Harm America’s Children, available at the link below. We’re pleased two Courts of Appeal have now agreed. We hope and expect that the U.S. Supreme Court will also agree when it hears the government’s appeal of its loss in Fox v. FCC this fall.

Creative media artists understand the Commission’s desire to address complaints, some well-founded, about television programming. But the Commission’s “cure” for indecent programming is proving worse than the disease. It does not serve the public’s interest – including the interest of America’s children — in a vibrant, diverse, creative, and challenging media. It turns the Commission, and the small group of determined activists who bombard it with canned indecency complaints, into the arbiters of what all Americans can watch in the privacy of their own homes. Polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans prefer to decide for themselves what to watch on TV. The First Amendment gives them that right.


The Center for Creative Voices in Media is a nonpartisan nonprofit group dedicated to preserving free speech, free expression, and independent and diverse creative voices in our nation’s media. Members of the Board of Advisors of Creative Voices include Warren Beatty, Steven Bochco, Peggy Charren, Blake Edwards, Tom Fontana, Sissy Spacek, and other Oscar, Emmy, Peabody, Tony, and other award-winning creative artists.


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