Jonathan Prince on 13 Oct 2000 13:13:43 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Free Speech Died Yesterday in the USA

Some how I missed this story on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, and so on.

Maybe they forgot to report it?


Court Order Ends 'Fairness Doctrine'
By Christopher Stern Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday , October 12, 2000 ; Page E03

A federal appeals court yesterday threw out two controversial rules 
that required broadcasters to give politicians and individuals free 
airtime to respond to political endorsements and personal attacks.

The U.S. Court of Appeals order came one week after the Federal 
Communications Commission suspended the "personal attack" and 
"political editorial" rules for 60 days so that it could update its 
record on the regulations. But in a strongly worded opinion, the 
court said it was taking the "extraordinary" action of ordering the 
FCC to permanently eliminate the rules because the agency had failed 
to justify a need for them.

Last year, the court ordered the FCC to show a need for the ruling, 
saying the regulations "interfere with editorial judgment of 
professional journalists and entangle the government in day-to-day 
operations of the media."

Broadcasters applauded yesterday's decision, one they had been 
seeking since 1980, when they first asked the FCC to eliminate the 

"This is a tremendous and historic victory for the First Amendment 
rights of broadcast journalists, said Barbara Cochran, president of 
the Radio-Television News Directors Association, which brought the 
lawsuit against the FCC. Cochran said the rules have discouraged 
broadcasters from participating in local affairs through the 
endorsement of candidates and the airing of editorials.

The political-editorial rule required TV and radio stations to give 
free airtime to opponents of candidates endorsed by broadcasters. The 
personal-attack rule required stations to give free airtime to 
individuals who have been personally criticized by a news program.

The rules are the last remnants of the long-abandoned "Fairness 
Doctrine," a federal policy, vacated by the FCC in 1987, that 
required broadcasters to cover controversial issues, provide balanced 
coverage, and give free response time to individuals or groups 
covered by a station's news report.

"Today is a great day for the First Amendment," Edward O. Fritts, 
president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a 
prepared statement. "This decision represents an historic victory in 
the 20-year fight to grant broadcasters the same free speech rights 
as print journalists." The NAB joined the news directors in the 

But FCC Chairman William E. Kennard said yesterday that he was 
"disappointed" by the court's decision, adding that the FCC will 
monitor TV and radio stations to determine whether elimination of the 
rules will benefit broadcasters. "We will use this opportunity to 
test broadcasters' claims that the rules chill speech and to 
determine how best to ensure that the public receives balanced 
coverage of controversial issues."

In July, the appeals court ordered the FCC to issue an "expeditious" 
justification for the rules or repeal them by Sept. 29. The agency 
missed the court's deadline but announced Oct. 4 that it was 
suspending the rules for 60 days. The agency said it was suspending 
the rules so that it could study how elimination of the rules might 
affect the marketplace.

The court found the FCC's suspension was too little, too late. "[I]t 
is folly to suppose that the 60-day suspension and call to update the 
record cures anything," the court said in its opinion.

But the court did say that the agency could start from scratch and 
launch a new proceeding to determine whether the personal-attack and 
political-editorial rules serve the public interest. In his statement 
yesterday, Kennard said he would consider such a rule-making. "We 
intend to move forward promptly to study the public interest 
obligations of broadcasters in the digital age, including whether 
these rules should be reinstated," he said.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, who heads the Media Access Project, a 
Washington-based advocacy group that supports the two controversial 
rules, took some comfort in the court's emphasis on the FCC's failure 
to meet deadlines. Schwartzman said the court ruling "is entirely 
directed at the agency's mismanagement and says nothing new about the 
merit of the rules."

Dan Troy, a lawyer who represented both the broadcasters and the news 
directors in the lawsuit, agrees that that the three-member appeals 
court was clearly upset by the FCC's slow response. "The court's 
decision makes clear that the FCC should have handled this in a very 
different way," he said.

But Troy added that the ruling is also an important precedent. "The 
last vestiges of the Fairness Doctrine are now dead and buried," he 

 2000 The Washington Post


Jonathan Prince          : No New  : Oilgarchies    :
  'Political designed to make lies sound
  truthful and murder respectable, and to give an
  appearance of solidity to pure wind.' - George Orwell

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