US: American TV pushes nudity off the schedule

Fury over sexy TV and videos sparked by Janet Jackson's breast has seen a clean-up by American networks who fear legal clampdowns and stiff fines

Taipei Times
Monday, February 16, 2004

A new clarion call is echoing through TV stations across the US: No sex please ... we're American.

The furore over singer Janet Jackson baring a breast during the Super Bowl half-time show has wiped a slew of sex scenes and raunchy videos from America's TV screens.

Prudishness is sweeping across the mainstream TV networks which were stung by the outpouring of criticism over Jackson's "Nipplegate." Last week music channel MTV withdrew six of its racier videos from its daily schedules, switching them to slots after 10pm.

The videos included Britney Spears's latest single Toxic in which the catsuit-clad singer simulates sex in an airliner lavatory.

Other bands whose videos were dumped from the daytime include rockers Blink 182 and Incubus.

MTV admitted its move was a reaction to public pressure.

"Given the particular sensitivity in the culture right now, we're erring on the side of caution for the immediate future," a spokeswoman said.

Mainstream shows have not escaped either. ABC has become the first major network to consider broadcasting an "desexed" version of an episode of its hit police series NYPD Blue to parts of the country where time differences mean it goes out before 10pm.

The series' producer, Steven Bochco, is so angry that he has refused to make the edits himself.

Other major networks have already made similar programme changes. CBS has removed a shot of a naked man from its crime series, Without A Trace, while NBC deleted a two-second shot of an elderly woman's breast from ER.

Jackson's performance during the Super Bowl, where singer Justin Timberlake ripped off part of her bodice at the climax of their duet, unleashed a wave of criticism that has stunned television executives.

Thousands of viewers rang to complain. One woman, Tennessee banker Terri Carlin, even filed a class action lawsuit claiming millions of dollars in compensation.

America's powerful conservative and religious lobbies have joined the outcry.

"The last thing a parent expects to see when they sit down with their family to watch the Super Bowl is Janet Jackson's breast ... to feature a show that requires parents to send their kids out of the room is unconscionable,' said Rick Schatz, president of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families.

The outrage has reached Washington, where politicians gathered last week for congressional hearings on ways of tightening America's indecency laws and keeping a tighter rein on broadcasters.

Some experts believe the recent editing of sexual content from mainstream TV means the industry is censoring itself before the law forces the issue.

It may be too late. The hearings were marked by sharp attacks on the morality shown on TV.

"I share the displeasure and fatigue of millions of Americans about the erosion of common decency on television," Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told the panel.

The TV regulator called Jackson's Super Bowl performance a "new low in prime-time television" and "the latest in a growing list of deplorable incidents."

US Congress may raise tenfold the fines for indecency that can be imposed on a station or network to US$275,000, or even stop them broadcasting.

Many US states are in revolt against TV's sexual content. Complaints to the FCC have risen from 346 in 2001 to 250,000 in 2003, revealing the sexual conservatism of much of the US.

Joanne Webb, a Texas woman with three children, is facing a prison sentence after fellow residents of the small town of Burleson told police she sold sex toys at Tupperware-style parties.

Texas law says the toys can be sold only as novelties. As soon as Webb told her customers their sexual uses she committed a crime.

Webb, who faces two years' jail and a US$4,000 fine, was arrested in an undercover police sting in which she sold officers a vibrator and explained how to use it.