FCC Chief Calls Halftime Show 'A New Low'

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission told lawmakers Wednesday that the Super Bowl halftime show was "a new low for prime-time television."

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission told lawmakers Wednesday that the Super Bowl halftime show was "a new low for prime-time television."

Testifying with the other four commissioners before the Senate Commerce Committee, Michael Powell said the FCC was investigating whether the show, which ended with Justin Timberlake tearing off part of Janet Jackson's top and exposing her right breast to 90 million TV viewers, violated indecency laws.

"The now infamous display during the Super Bowl halftime show, which represented a new low in prime-time television, is just the latest example in a growing list of deplorable incidents over the nation's airwaves," Powell said.

The FCC has received more than 200,000 complaints about the halftime show.

Powell said the commission has aggressively gone after indecency violators, and would start doing more, including fining broadcasters for each incident rather than each program, and revoking licenses of some serial violators.

And he said he has asked broadcasters and cable operators to take steps to curb indecent and other inappropriate programming.

"Action must be taken by the entire television and radio industry to heed the public's outcry and take affirmative steps to curb the race to the bottom," Powell said. "This industry simply must help clean up its own room."

After appearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, all five commissioners were heading for the other side of the Capitol and an encore performance in front of the House telecommunications subcommittee.

The Super Bowl incident occurred at a time when lawmakers were pressing the FCC to crack down on indecent programming. Legislation to increase the fines for indecency from $27,500 to $275,000 has been introduced in both houses of Congress.

Last month, the FCC proposed a record $755,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications, the nation's largest radio station chain, for the "Bubba the Love Sponge" program aired on four of its Florida outlets.

"CBS gave everyone on the FCC, everyone in Congress, every parents' organization, every parent a slap in the face and said, 'Go to hell,'" said L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council, a conservative advocacy group.

"The wake-up alarm went off at the FCC," Bozell said. "Now what you're seeing are the commissioners taking a very strong public position on this."

It's not only the commissioners that are angry.

"They knew that this was beneath the standards, including CBS running some lewd and crude commercials during the Super Bowl," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "Everybody has got egg on their face."

The FCC says it has stepped up enforcement of indecency rules. But the agency's enforcement bureau last December declined to fine NBC for airing an expletive uttered by rock star Bono during the 2003 Golden Globe Awards show. The commission is considering whether to overrule the bureau in that case.

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