WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in late May that the FCC had 30 days to decide whether it wanted to keep or eliminate the personal attack and political editorializing rules that have been in existence since 1949.
The Court of Appeals made its decision after again hearing arguments from the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), which originally petitioned the court for judicial review of the rules in the early 1980s. If the FCC does not decide the issue within the 30-day period, the court will treat that as a denial of the RTNDA petition and will review the group’s petition itself.
The broadcasting industry has asserted that the rules requiring stations to provide air time to political candidates to respond to personal attacks or station editorials are unconstitutional infringements on their First Amendment rights because they are content-based regulations of the broadcast media. Broadcasters believe that the rules are nothing more than governmental interference in their editorial judgments.
The court’s ruling follows the FCC’s most recent deadlock on the issue. Shortly before the May 22 ruling, the five FCC commissioners deadlocked on the issue because Chairman William Kennard recused himself from the decision. Chairman Kennard cited potential conflicts of interest since he was a former lawyer with the National Association of Broadcasters in the 1980s when it filed petitions to do away with the personal attack rules.
Commissioners Gloria Tristani and Susan Ness, both Democrats, voted in favor of keeping the rules while Commissioners Michael Powell and Harold Furchtgott-Roth, both Republicans, voted to eliminate them. (In re RTNDA; Media Counsel: Kathleen Kirby, Washington, D.C.)