Court Says Banning Political Ads From Public TV Is Unconstitutional

Let’s hope we don’t see Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama angling for votes in between Sesame Street segments — but that could be the reality in the future. An appeals court in California ruled that banning political and public-issue ads from public TV and radio stations is unconstitutional. Oh, First Amendment! Look what you’ve done!

AdAge says the court ruled that there wasn’t any concrete evidence to support the Federal Communications Commission’s ban on the paid ads. The FCC had said those kinds of ads would harm niche programming.

It all started with a lawsuit brought by Minority Television Project, a California nonprofit that operates San Francisco Bay-area public-TV station KMTP. The station had been fined by the FCC for violating their ban on paid ads from corporations, but they claimed the ban was at odds with thei right to free speech.

In the past, public TV and radio stations weren’t allowed to air ads for or against political candidates, ads expressing view on topics of public interest, and ads for products placed by for-profit companies.

The majority opinion from Circuit Judge Carlos T. Bea says that the current law runs into trouble with its content-based selectivity.

The fact that Congress chose not to ban all advertisements, but left a gap for certain nonprofit advertisements, is fatal to its case. That is the kind of picking-and-choosing among different types of speech that Congress may not do, absent evidence to show that Congress’s favoritism is necessary to serve its substantial interest.

However, the ban on product ads from for-profit entities was upheld, because it could nudge programmers from their high quality programming into “lowest-common denominator fare seen on broadcast and cable networks,” says AdAge.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again, Congress. The court said if they can come up with evidence that broadcasting the ads would actually cause harm, that stations would end up changing program content, they’ll consider the case again.

Court Declares Public TV’s Ban on Political Ads Unconstitutional [AdAge]


Edit Your Comment

  1. PsiCop says:

    … because whatever a politician wants, a politician gets, period, end of story.

    • Cosmo_Kramer says:

      No, because political speech should be protected against censorship.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        The REAL Cosmo Kramer gets a joke.

      • PsiCop says:

        Is that why politicians and political survey companies are exempt from the “no call list” law? No. The reason, again, is … because whatever a politician wants, a politician gets, period, end of story.

      • maxamus2 says:

        But what we see in ads isn’t true “political speech”: It is made up BS.

  2. Foot_Note says:

    cant wait till santorum ads appear on seaseme street…. “no abortions”!

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I WOULD hope that a court would see the harm associated with bombarding children with political ads.

    • HomerSimpson says:

      Kermit: “Kids, tell mommy and daddy that Obama is an evil socialist bent on destroying meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee and the world!”

  3. ferd says:

    Don’t those guys want to remove funding from PBS? Seems kind of hypocrtical to buy ads on something you don’t like. Oh wait, it’s politics, then it’s okay.

    • Eremis77 says:

      Not at all! Since their de-funding of public TV failed, they figured the next best thing was to ruin it with the same advertising that everyone else has.

      I can’t wait until the broadcast model dies off completely and everything is on-demand with minimal commercial interruption…if that ever happens.

      • SeattleSeven says:

        “everything is on-demand with minimal commercial interruption”

        It already is and with no commercial interruption… If you know where to look.

    • Cerne says:

      You make the common mistake that opposing public funding for something is the same thing as opposing it in general.

    • RickN says:

      By “these guys” I assume you mean the people who brought the lawsuit, the ones actually discussed in the article. I didn’t realize the Minority Television Project wanted to defund PBS.

      Or are you trying to associate this story with an unrelated group of guys who differ from you in their political opinions?

  4. FedoraFetish says:

    Will the ads be done by the PBS voiceover guy? “This program is brought to you by: the Mitt Romney campaign. Mitt Romney: Working to fight oversized tree growth and tax increases; And by contributions from viewers like you.”

    • kc2idf says:

      I would hope so. The comedic value should be pretty good.

      I heard a GoDaddy spot the other day on the local NPR station and just busted out laughing.

  5. FilthyHarry says:

    Ok fine, they can’t ban the ads. They can however charge for them, no? Price: 1 trillion dollars for a 30 second spot.

    • gman863 says:

      Actually, ads paid for directly by political campaigns (not PACs) are subject to the FCC’s “Lowest Unit Rate” rule.

      Put simply, it means any station with a FCC broadcast license must offer a candidate the lowest rate paid by any commercial advertiser during the previous six months for an equivalent time slot. In other words, if a station cuts a deal with Billy Bob’s BBQ to sell an unsold block of time that’s usually $200 at $50 per spot in Nova, Obama, Romney and all state/local candidates get a $50 rate, regardless of supply and demand.

      • Villnius says:

        Yeah, but the thing is, the concept behind public television is that it’s supposed to be directly viewer supported. Commercials are banned, and the courts say it’s constitutional to do stay that way. That effectively means that the lowest commercial rate for these stations is infinity, so 13 trilion is significantly discounted.

    • lihtox says:

      The ruling says that the *government* can’t ban political ads; it doesn’t say that individual public television stations have to *accept* the ads.

  6. SeattleSeven says:

    Hi Folks, I’m Mitt Romney. Do you hate the Nova program you’ve just seen? Please help me cut public TV funding so you’ll never have to endure another terrible episode of so called “educational” television.
    Public television is some sort of European socialist practice anyway. No real Americans want to watch Downton Abbey. Vote Romney – Rubio 2012 and let’s end this once and for all.

  7. gman863 says:

    Too bad Mr. Rogers isn’t around anymore.

    “Can you say “Tea Party Douchebags”, boys and girls? I knew you could.

    • RickN says:

      I prefer Sesame Street.

      “How much money did Soros make from his Nazi collaborations? Ah-ha-ha. One. One million dollars. Two. Two million dollars. Three…”

  8. WB987 says:

    This ruling and the idea that we can’t have publicly funded elections makes me question why we can’t have free speech with some limitations because clearly free speech is creating some problems. Why are we beholden to a bunch of old guys who died over 200 years ago and likely had no concept of corporatism, modern media, etc…

    • Darury says:

      Don’t you know it. We just need to let the right people make our decisions for us to remove all these pesky issues with people disagreeing with what’s best for them.

      I mean, look at how well all the various communist countries are doing compared to the hell-hole that is America.

  9. cspschofield says:

    Dammit, ANY prior restraint of political speech by the State violates the First Amendment. I don’t give a flying flip how annoying you find that speech. I don’t give a fat damn where the funding comes from within the U.S.. Anybody who thinks the government can be trusted with the authority to proscribe political expression is either historically illiterate or suffers from severe brain damage.

    The Politically Correct of every age have always wanted to gut the First Amendment and have come up with all manner of smooth excuses to do so. I wouldn’t trust that authority to Abraham Lincoln and a panel of certified Saints. If only because somewhere down the line some empire-building swine will find a way to stretch any category of speech excepted from protection to fit his political opponents.

    Does that mean I think political ads on PBS are a Good Thing? No! They are, however, preferable to the alternative.

  10. mistyfire says:

    Some political ads are inappropriate and/or controversial. Not something to appear during Sesame Street.

    • Conformist138 says:

      Public television is the least offensive thing you can find on televsion, but not all ads are appropriate for that. Some ads are too racy or too creepy and I doubt my grandma would appreciate it while she watches some PBS special on knitting. We have hundred and hundreds of private networks to choose from to see all the crap ads our brains can handle, so let’s leave just a tiny sliver free from the bombardment.

      I say, close the non-profit ad loophole and thus ban ALL ads on public stations. Keep them publicly funded (since, you know, “public”) and keep the ads off.

      Some people honestly like being able to enjoy a TV show without facing demands from a dozen companies to buy their crap. Even online shows are adding more and more ads, which I honestly think starts alienating audiences and pushing them to piracy because, really, we see this ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. A break from the infinitely long ad marathon we seem to call life is really really appreciated now and then.

  11. soj4life says:

    I love how these judges flipped the concern of this lawsuit. This station was trying to show regular ads and somehow the court ended up banning them but letting political ads in.