Supremes Won't Review Red Lion

The Supreme Court, without comment, has chosen not to wade into the question of whether broadcasters should still be held to the "uniquely pervasive" standard that justifies FCC speech regulations, which leaves in place a ban on paid ads on noncommercial stations, unless they are paid for by nonprofits.

The court Monday (June 30) declined to hear an appeal filed by noncommercial broadcaster Minority Television Project (MTP) of a December 2013 Ninth Circuit Court decision.

In that decision, the full panel of the Ninth Circuit agreed with a California District Court ruling that upheld the FCC's rule prohibiting noncommercial stations to take paid ads from for-profit entities, as well as issue ads and political ads.

In denying the challenge by MTP, the court found that "the government has a substantial interest in imposing advertising restrictions in order to preserve the essence of public broadcast programming." The court also concluded that the ban was not an unconstitutional abridgement of speech, citing historic rationales of scarcity and intrusiveness (Supreme Court decisions in the Pacifica and Red Lion cases) for its deference to government regulation of broadcast content.

It said the ban was narrowly tailored to address the harms Congress sought to prevent and did not affect speech that did not undermine that goals of the statute, which were to preserve the noncommercial, educational nature of the service.

MTP had asked the court to overrule Red Lion, saying the uniqueness argument was no longer justifiable. Broadcasters were hoping the court would revisit Red Lion in deciding on the constitutionality of indecency regs, but the court declined to weigh in then, too.

John Eggerton

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.