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FCC: WUSA Must Make Ad Time Available to Anti-Abortion Candidate

The FCC has directed Gannett's WUSA Washington to permit
presidential candidate and anti-abortion activist Randall Terry to buy ad time on the station, upholding
Terry's complaint that the station had improperly denied him reasonable access
although he was a legally
qualified candidate in West Virginia.

FCC rules require stations to "allow reasonable
access to or to permit the purchase of reasonable amounts of time for the use
of a broadcast station... by
a legally qualified candidate for federal elective office."

WUSA had denied Terry's request for access, saying
that its signal reached a de minimis portion of that state. "[t]he issue is not
where the FCC predicts that our signal reaches under an abstract interpretation
of the propagation curves in its rules.  The issue is whether WUSA puts an
actual signal, in real life terms, over more than a negligible number of
viewers in West Virginia." 

Gannett had said in response to the complaint,
which was filed Oct. 19. "Because of terrain in an intervening mountainous
region, our signal does
not reach more than a negligible number of viewers in West
Virginia, if it reaches any at
all.  Accordingly, we have no obligation
to broadcast Mr. Terry's advertisement."  

Gannett also said that commission staffers had
communicated to them repeatedly that political broadcasting obligations do not
apply where coverage is de

The FCC's Media Bureau disagreed that the station
did not reach enough of West
Virginia to trigger reasonable access
requirements, saying that
according to its FCC contour map, the station reached almost 3% of the state's
population. "We do not think this percentage
can be considered de minimis."

"We conclude that it would be unreasonable
for the Station not to provide reasonable access to Terry because Terry is a
legally qualified
candidate in West Virginia and
the Station's digital noise limited service contour ("NLSC") encompasses more
than a de minimis portion
of the population of West Virginia,"
the Media Bureau said in granting the complaint. 

The FCC denied Terry's access complaint back in
February, when NBC's WMAQ refused to run his ad in the Super Bowl. In that
case, the FCC said Terryhad not made a reasonable showing that he was a candidate.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.