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Appeals Court Removes Federal Ban on Political Advertisements
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On Thursday, in what is being viewed as a sea-change in media policies, a divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco held that the ban of the Federal Communications Commission on political and public issue ads was unconstitutional. The court held that preventing public broad casters from airing advertisements on political and public issues violated the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

The court held, “Public issue and political speech in particular is at the very core of the First Amendment’s protection … Public issue and political advertisements pose no threat of ‘commercialization.’

The Judge Carlos Bea wrote in the main opinion that “By definition, such advertisements do not encourage viewers to buy commercial goods and services. A ban on such advertising therefore cannot be narrowly tailored to serve the interest of preventing the ‘commercialization’ of broadcasting.”

  
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The decision was given in a case where a non-profit, the Minority Television Project, was fined $10,000 by the FCC for running paid ads from companies including insurer State Farm and General Motors Co’s Chevrolet division.

The FCC held that if public broadcasters became dependent on ads, then they might reduce educational programs and awareness programs and instead come up with programs that appeal to a wider audience.

The court held that the ban was too broad and removing it would not undermine the educational nature of public broadcast stations. However, the court upheld the ban on ads for goods and services on behalf of for-profit companies. The $10,000 fine on the plaintiff remained.

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Experts hold that the decision can change the fundamental nature of public television and radio and allow rich political lobbies to sway the public by use of public broadcasts.

Dissenting Judge Richard Paez wrote, “For almost 60 years, commercial public broadcasters have been effectively insulated from the lure of paid advertising … The court’s judgment will disrupt this policy and could jeopardize the future of public broadcasting. I am not persuaded that the First Amendment mandates such an outcome.”



The case is Minority Television Project Inc v. FCC, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 09-17311.



 

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