FCC suspends 2 open access response rules requiring free radio, TV air time for political endorsements and attacks

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FCC suspends 2 open access response rules requiring free radio, TV air time for political endorsements and attacks

Thursday, October 05, 2000



WASHINGTON - The Federal Communications Commission yesterday suspended two controversial rules requiring television and radio stations to give political candidates and individuals free air time to respond to campaign endorsements or personal attacks.

The "political editorial and personal attack" rules have been suspended for 60 days in response to repeated legal challenges from broadcasters that have contended the regulations violate their right to free speech. The FCCs decision means the rules will be suspended during the last weeks of the political season - a time when they are most likely to be invoked.

In its ruling, the agency said taking the action now is "an ideal time to determine how broadcasters are affected" by the rule.

Broadcasters have argued that the regulations have made them reluctant to endorse candidates and that the rules no longer make sense because there are so many outlets for politicians to express their views.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, who heads the Media Access Project, an advocacy group, lamented the FCCs decision. Schwartzman said the rules are aimed at the few broadcasters who would endorse a candidate without allowing an opponent equal time to respond to the stations position. He said that even though the rules have been rarely invoked, their very existence has ensured fairness by broadcasters. He also predicted that some "irresponsible broadcasters will abuse the suspension," thereby leaving their viewers uninformed about opposing views on controversial issues.

Yesterdays action was in response to a 1999 order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia requiring the FCC to justify the two rules and then either modify them or take them off the books. The agency said it may decide to eliminate or change the rules if it determines that they are an unnecessary burden on broadcasters.

But broadcasters expressed concern yesterday that the agency will use the proceeding to broaden the rules or even resurrect the broader Fairness Doctrine, a federal policy abandoned by the FCC in 1987 which required TV and radio stations to cover controversial issues, provide balanced coverage and give free response time to individuals or groups covered by the stations news report.

"It is outrageous that the FCC refuses to discard tired regulations that stifle free speech rather than enhance it,"

National Association of Broadcasters President Edward Fritts said in a prepared statement. "It is equally astonishing that the FCC would consider reviving the Fairness Doctrine, a policy that allowed politically appointed regulators to pass judgment on the fairness of a news report," Fritts also said.

An FCC spokesman said yesterday that the agency did not intend to use the proceeding to revive the doctrine but rather asked the public to comment on the Fairness Doctrine in an effort to develop a full record for the court. )2000 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), October 05, 2000

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