Janet Jackson Nipplegate Scandal: Court Issues Ruling

Nearly eight years ago, Janet Jackson’s music career took a nosedive when, during a Super bowl halftime performance with Justin Timberlake, the pop icon’ s breast and sunburst nipple piercing were exposed to the world by Timberlake in what the two described as a “wardrobe malfunction.” After suffering a $550,000 Federal Communications Commission fine as well as career-crippling public backlash, Jackson can now enjoy a bit of vindication after a court ruled this week that the FCC wrongly fined Jackson and CBS for the nip-slip.

According to Reuters, the court found that the FCC failed to properly inform CBS about the changes in indecency enforcement prior to the performance and had “arbitrarily” decided to change its rules when dealing with Jackson and the network.


Though disappointed in the ruling, the FCC said that their decision was based on “narrow procedural grounds and did not diminish the commission’s authority to regulate indecent content.”

“In the meantime, the FCC will continue to use all of the authority at its disposal to ensure that the nation’s broadcasters fulfill the public interest responsibilities that accompany their use of the public airwaves,” an FCC spokesman said in a statement.


However, CBS released a statement relaying their joy over the ruling and criticized the FCC for its changes in decency enforcement.

“We are gratified that once again the court has ruled in our favor. We are hopeful that this will help lead the FCC to return to the policy of restrained indecency enforcement it followed for decades,” said CBS.

Media Access Project, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy law firm, shared a similar critique of the FCC.

“Like the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ itself, there is less here than meets the eye,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, policy director of Media Access Project. “The majority held that the FCC improperly attempted to change its ‘indecency’ policies in applying them to CBS. The decision is a reminder that the FCC can’t change its enforcement policies in the face of public pressure, and that it needs to take special care when First Amendment rights are at issue.”

The FCC has faced criticism in the past for overlooking “fleeting expletives” on networks like Fox and during the Supreme Court’s upcoming 2011-2012 slate of hearings, the commission’s constitutional right to fine broadcasters who air profanity and nudity will be under review.

nicholas robinson

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