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Ku Klux Klan can't sponsor public radio show

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  1. Content Restrictions

    NMU         EIGHTH CIRCUIT         Broadcasting         Feb 29, 2000    

Ku Klux Klan can’t sponsor public radio show

  • A federal appellate court has found that keeping the Ku Klux Klan’s message off a college radio station does not violate the First Amendment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis (8th Cir.) struck down an attempt by the Missouri Ku Klux Klan to get a sponsorship message read on KWMU-FM, a not-for-profit public broadcast radio station located on the University of Missouri at St. Louis campus.

Alleging a violation of First Amendment rights, the group filed a lawsuit in federal court in 1997 after Patricia Bennett, general manager of KWMU, and curators of UMSL who own and operate the station refused to accept underwriting funds from the Missouri KKK.

In an effort to fund the station and pursuant to federal law, KWMU acknowledges on air any “donors” or “underwriters” to their programming. These announcements are usually 15 seconds in length, drafted by the underwriter and read by KWMU staff on the air.

In his query to the station, Michael Cuffley, state coordinator of the Missouri KKK, requested they sponsor four segments of NPR’s “All Things Considered” and that the following message be read as an underwriting acknowledgment: “The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a White Christian organization, standing up for rights and values of White Christian America since 1865. For more information, please contact the Klu Klux Klan . . . Let your voice be heard!”

The federal trial court held that “KWMU’s enhanced underwriting program was not a forum for speech and therefore did not implicate the First Amendment.”

The court recognized KWMU’s fear of losing revenue from major African-American donors and did not ascribe their refusal of the KKK’s message as a suppression of the group’s viewpoint.

The Court of Appeals expanded on the trial court’s reasoning by stating that “the First Amendment does not prohibit the government itself from speaking, nor require the government to speak and because KWMU must by law publicly advise its listeners as to the source of funds ‘accepted’ for its broadcast, UMSL’s decision to accept or reject the funds of underwriters was itself a governmental decision to speak or remain silent.”

Recognizing other stations beyond the likes of KWMU, the court said that “public broadcasters enjoy the ‘widest journalistic freedom’ consistent with their statutory obligations to broadcast material serving the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity.'”

(Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Realm of Missouri v. Bennett)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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