Public Broadcasting Must Also Follow the First Amendment

Yesterday, the 9th Circuit Court struck down a ban on political and issue advertising in public broadcasts.  The opinion, which targets the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) ban on non-profit and political advertising, leaves intact bans on commercial advertisements.

The opinion concluded that the ban on political and issue advertising violated the First Amendment’s free speech clause.  Although the FCC argued that there was significant interest in running educational programming, the court ruled that removing the ban would not undermine the educational focus of public broadcasting.

In the main opinion, Judge Carlose Bea wrote: “Public issue and political speech in particular is at the very core of the First Amendment’s protection,” and that: “Public issue and political advertisements pose no threat of ‘commercialization’.”

In his dissent, Judge Richard Paez wrote: “For almost 60 years, commercial public broadcasters have been effectively insulated from the lure of paid advertising.”  He continued: “The court’s judgment will disrupt this policy and could jeopardize the future of public broadcasting. I am not persuaded that the First Amendment mandates such an outcome.”

Thankfully, this decision continues the strong tradition that in this country citizens are protected from government entities limiting free speech.  Although it’s disheartening that regulatory agencies will try to limit communication that they deem dangerous, in the end, reason prevails in the courts.

Some words that Congressionally mandated agencies should take to heart: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…

For more on this:

LA Times: Court overturns ban on political ads on public TV, radio stations

The Hill: Court OKs political ads on public stations

Boston Herald: Public broadcasters may carry political ads, appeals court rules  

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.