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Solicitations invalidate program’s "public affairs" status

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Solicitations invalidate program's "public affairs" status05/02/95 LOUISIANA--The U.S. Supreme Court in early April let stand a lower court ruling which…


LOUISIANA–The U.S. Supreme Court in early April let stand a lower court ruling which found that broadcast programs containing solicitations for non-profit organizations and endorsement of illegal activities do not fit the definition of “public affairs” programming.

The case involved three 30-minute radio programs titled “Winds of Change,” which discussed the history and accomplishments of a local activist group.

As part of a 1989 settlement, Coastal Broadcasting, Inc., which owns the radio station in New Orleans, La., agreed to air one and a half hours of public affairs programming produced by Area Belle Chasse Community Radio (ABCCR) each week.

In August 1990, ABCCR submitted “Winds of Change.” Coastal, however, refused to broadcast the program on the grounds that it was not public affairs programming, because it included telephone numbers to solicit membership and encouraged “squatting,” an illegal practice where homeless people move into abandoned homes.

After ABCCR sued for breach of contract, the Louisiana Court of Appeals (5th cir.) ruled in June 1994 that the programs were not “public affairs” programming, because they were “produced and designed as a means of political solicitation and advertisement.” In February 1995, ABCCR petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review, arguing that public affairs programming is defined by the FCC as “local self-expression, politics, service to minority groups, speeches, discussions, documentaries, vignettes, extended coverage of public events, free speech messages, controversial issues, and the expression of unpopular opinion — all of which would qualify under FCC definitions of public affairs programming.”

The court, however, let stand the appeals court ruling which said this program differed from previous public affairs programming because of the use of solicitation. “It is the element of solicitation contained in `Winds of Change’ that is outside the realm of public affairs programming,” the court ruled. (Area Belle Chasse Community Radio v. Belle Chasse Broadcasting Corporation, et al.)

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.