Stations forced to broadcast gun-control ad

Content Regulation | Feature | September 14, 1993

NEW JERSEY -- With the onset of another political campaign season, ABC affiliates in New York City and Philadelphia must air a controversial political ad opposing automatic weapons, the New York Times reported.

The New Jersey Democratic Party's ad focuses on the National Rifle Association and its opposition to the New Jersey law banning the sale and ownership of semi-automatic weapons. In the ad, a faceless gunman fires an assault weapon, destroying a watermelon. A picture of a little girl appears on the screen while a voice-over says, "Weapons like these have one purpose -- to kill -- often children in the crossfire."

The Democrats tried to buy time for the ad from ABC affiliates in New York City and Philadelphia, but the stations rejected it. In response, the Democrats asked state Sen. Walter Rand (D-Bellmawr) to sponsor the ad. He agreed, and the stations were obligated to run the ad under federal law.

Under the Communications Act, any federal candidate has a right to run his or her ads and broadcasters cannot refuse them. The act allows, but does not require, broadcasters to sell air time to state and local candidates. But if they do choose to sell air time to state and local candidates, they cannot refuse ads because of their content.

An Indiana man used the same law to force broadcasters to run graphic anti-abortion ads during the 1992 congressional campaign. Michael Bailey had previously tried unsuccessfully to run the ads for many years. When he learned of the federal law, he declared his candidacy for an Indiana Republican congressional seat, compelling broadcasters to air his ads regardless of their graphic content.