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FCC ordered to justify 'personal attack,' 'political editorial' rules

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WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Federal Communications Commission must provide justification for its longstanding "personal attack" and "political editorial" rules in order to…

WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Federal Communications Commission must provide justification for its longstanding “personal attack” and “political editorial” rules in order to keep them from being struck down, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., (D.C. Cir.) held in early August.

The federal appeals court remanded a case challenging the continued existence of the rules back to the FCC. It told the agency that the justification for the personal attack and political editorial rules could not be the same broad justification that supported the now-dead “fairness doctrine.”

The Radio-Television News Directors Association and the National Association of Broadcasters challenged the rules, arguing that they are obsolete and inhibit expression. Both organizations argued the rules no longer serve the public interest, as required by the FCC, and violate the First Amendment.

In addition, the broadcasters argued that such rules, originally intended to diversify broadcast viewpoints, are no longer necessary because of the numerous media outlets available to the public.

Both the personal attack and the political editorial rules give persons or identifiable groups the opportunity to respond to broadcasts with opposing viewpoints. However, there are several exemptions, including broadcasts that are “bona fide newscasts.”

The challenge is more than a decade old and was brought when the FCC split 2-2 on whether to repeal the rules. The even split left the rules in place. (Radio-Television News Directors Ass’n v. FCC; Media Counsel: Daniel Troy, Washington, D.C.)