Court won’t allow broadcasters to move controversial ads
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. Court of Appeals in mid-September overturned an FCC ruling that allowed broadcast licensees to use their own discretion in determining whether or not a political advertisement is indecent and whether it should be aired during “safe harbor” hours. The case concerned a candidate’s attempt to air political ads that showed photographs of aborted fetuses.
The appellate court found that the FCC decision violated rules guaranteeing candidates reasonable access to air time. Because the FCC rule permitted broadcasters to determine air time for some political advertisements based on content, the court also found the FCC violated anti-censorship provisions which prohibit broadcasters from exercising editorial control over advertising, and “equal opportunity” rules, which require broadcasters to provide periods of equal audience potential to candidates. It also found that there was no evidence to support the claim that advertisements containing photographs of aborted fetuses could prove harmful to children.
The case was brought by Daniel Becker, a Georgia Republican running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in October 1992, who had been denied air time for a 30-minute anti-abortion commercial that he wanted shown after a Sunday afternoon football game.
Because it had received numerous calls from viewers complaining about the graphic depiction of aborted fetuses in Becker’s commercial that aired in July 1992, WAGA-TV asked the FCC to issue a ruling concerning the rights broadcast licensees have to channel a political advertisement to a time when fewer children would be in the audience.
After the FCC’s Mass Media Bureau ruled in Becker’s favor, attorneys for several television and radio stations asked the commission to review the bureau’s decision. Becker also complained to the FCC after WAGA again refused to air an ad after the FCC decision. The FCC then concluded that it was not unreasonable for a station to channel an advertisement that could be harmful to children to a different air time.
In early October, FCC attorneys had not determined whether to ask the court for a review of the decision. (Becker v. FCC; Media Intervenor’s Counsel: Irving Gastfreund, Washington, D.C.)