‘Must carry’ rules upheld by Supreme Court
WASHINGTON, D.C.–In a divided opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court in late March upheld a lower court’s decision requiring cable television stations to continue to carry local broadcasts.
The Court, after reviewing Congress’ intentions for enacting the rules, found that the “must carry” regulations were designed to preserve the benefits of free over-the-air broadcasting, promote a wide array of information from different sources, and provide fair competition for those involved in broadcast. The Court also said the rules make it less likely that the government would step in and make content-based decisions about programming. The “must carry” provisions mandate that local cable systems dedicate some channeling to local and public broadcast programs. Cable systems with more than 12 channels are required to set aside at least one-third of all programming for local broadcasts.
Although the cable industry asserted that the rules violate free speech protections since they force the industry to give space to channels they would rather not carry, the Court found that many cable outlets have not been affected significantly by the rules. Opponents also argued that the requirements would actually limit programmers’ ability to carry diverse programming.
This is the second time the case has reached the Supreme Court. In 1994, the Court ruled that the restrictions on cable systems were not an attack on the programming but were rather content-neutral. It then sent the case back to the District Court to evaluate Congress’s reasons for devising the rules. The lower court ruled in late December 1995 that the provisions were constitutional. (Turner Broadcasting System v. FCC; Media Counsel: Bartow Farr, Washington, D.C.)