If the FCC slaps CBS' owned and operated stations with a fine for the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl telecast, CBS will fight back in court, Viacom co-president and co-chie

If the FCC slaps CBS' owned and operated stations with a fine for the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl telecast, CBS will fight back in court, Viacom co-president and co-chief operating officer Leslie Moonves told reporters yesterday (July 18).

Moonves, speaking alongside CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem during the opening session of CBS' portion of the Television Critics Association press tour, made it clear that he and other top Viacom brass are growing increasingly concerned about the chilling effect of the push in Washington, D.C., to police indecency on the airwaves.

The CBS boss, who was recently promoted to the No. 2 post at CBS parent Viacom (alongside former MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston), called the prospect of the commission fining CBS-owned stations "grossly unfair" and stressed that no one at CBS had any advance knowledge that there was even a threat of a "wardrobe malfunction," as the incident involving Jackson and Justin Timberlake has been dubbed.

"We think the idea of a fine for that is patently ridiculous, and we're not going to stand for it," Moonves said. "We're going to take that to the courts if it happens. That's our attitude toward it."

There have been rumblings from the FCC that the commission staff has proposed a fine of $550,000 spread among the 20 CBS owned and operated stations, but not the 150-plus CBS affiliates that also carried the Feb. 1 Super Bowl telecast. The Super Bowl incident jump-started a push in Washington to dramatically increase the fines and the scope of the FCC's authority to police indecency on the airwaves.

"We hope this rush to judgment settles down," Moonves said. "A media free of government censorship is essential to our democracy and our business. Some of the developments coming out of Washington are coming dangerously close to infringing on First Amendment rights."

CBS' standards and practices department has become more vigilant in the past year in questioning anything that smacks of being gratuitous when it comes to sexual or violent content, but at the same time the network hasn't issued any draconian guidelines for producers either, Moonves said.

"We will vigorously defend our right to produce such content as some may deem too controversial," Moonves said. "We believe the viewing and listening public will not tolerate government censorship, and we're going to take a very strong stand on that. ... We still encourage our producers to walk the edge and tell edgy stories."