9th Circuit ruling OKs political ads for noncoms


GavelIf a 2-1 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holds, noncommercial radio and television broadcasters will be allowed to sell political advertising. However, a ban on traditional goods and services advertising was upheld, amounting to a case lost for the noncom that brought the suit in the first place.

Minority Television Project aired advertising on its KMPT-TV San Francisco and was hit with a $10K fine by the FCC. That fine will stand – noncoms got no new right to sell good old-fashioned broadcast advertising over their airwaves.

However, the Court decided that public issue and political speech is a core First Amendment right, and that public broadcast outlets should not have fire walls up to keep this type of speech out.

The FCC, challenged by MTP, said part of its mission was to ensure that the educational programming found on public broadcast stations endures. It said putting advertising on such stations could influence them to shy away from educational programming in favor of more popular fare.

The Court said that lifting the ban on political ads would not threaten the educational mission of public broadcasters.

One of the justices noted that the underwriting announcements currently used as a fund-raising tool by public broadcasters already seem to be edging toward the type of content found on commercial stations.

American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein didn’t see it that way. He told Reuters that the ruling could alter the very character of public broadcasting.

RBR-TVBR observation: We’re used to seeing politicians carve out exemptions for themselves, such as retaining their right to interrupt our dinners with unsolicited phone calls despite our presence on the Do Not Call registry. Now a court has carved out another stunning exemption.

While this might go a long way toward helping noncommercial stations make their funding targets, we have to believe we haven’t heard the end of this one yet.