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Federal Communications Commission
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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

October 4, 2000
David Fiske (202) 418-0513


Washington, D.C. – The FCC today suspended its political editorial and personal attack rules for 60 days, and asked parties to then submit evidence on the effect of the suspension of the rules 60 days after the suspension ends in order to create a better record on which to review the rules.

In a pending lawsuit challenging the two rules, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had remanded the case to the FCC to supplement its analysis of the rules with evidence superior to that which had previously been supplied, and based on that evidence, provide its rationale for retaining the rules. The Order notes that the record previously before the Commission was “old and possibly flawed,” and that the court had encouraged the Commission to “consider modern factual and legal developments” and “to work from a relatively clean procedural slate.”

In today’s Order, a majority of the Commission made clear that much of the discussion in the Syracuse Peace Council case accompanying the Commission’s repeal of the fairness doctrine has been rejected. With regard to both rules, the Commission noted that the Court of Appeals had previously rejected the contention that the rules are inextricably tied to the fairness doctrine. The Commission asked those parties who believe it is not possible to distinguish political editorials and personal attacks from subjects formerly covered by the fairness doctrine to consider whether the rules at issue should be extended to cover matters that previously were subject to the fairness doctrine.

The political editorial rule provides generally that if a licensee airs an editorial supporting a political candidate, it must notify other candidates for that office of the editorial and provide them an opportunity to respond on-the-air. Similarly, the personal attack rule provides generally that when, during a program on a controversial issue of public importance, an attack is made on someone’s integrity, the licensee must inform the subject of the attack and provide an opportunity to respond on-the-air.

The Commission noted that broadcasters have contended generally that the rules have had a “chilling effect” on programming, and specifically that elimination of the political editorial reply rule would increase broadcast station editorializing. The Commission said that temporarily suspending the rule during the current election period would enable it to receive updated information on these issues.

Specifically, the Commission asked broadcasters to report on (1) the number of political editorials run during the suspension period, (2) the number of editorials run during prior election cycles, (3) the nature of the elections on which they editorialize, such as national, state, or local, and (4) whether other media outlets editorialized on those races.

The Commission noted that because the Court of Appeals had asked the FCC to provide further rationale for having reply rules for editorials on political candidates, but not on other topics, it also needs information concerning broadcasters’ editorial practices more generally. Specifically, it asked the broadcasters to report on (1) whether they editorialize on topics unrelated to political campaigns, (2) whether the rate of such editorials is increasing or decreasing, and (3) what factors are relevant to a broadcaster’s decision to editorialize.

With respect to the personal attack rule, the Commission said it expects broadcasters to collect information regarding complaints concerning personal attacks received while the rule is suspended, and to compare the number and nature of the complaints during this 60-day suspension period to a comparable period while the rule was in effect.

The Commission said it encouraged groups supporting retention of the personal attack rule to also collect evidence and report to the Commission concerning personal attacks that they would have challenged had the rule not been suspended or that were made during programming not covered by the present rule.

The Commission also said that while it would not rule out either retaining the rules exactly as written or eliminating them entirely, it would profit most if comments in the proceeding were directed to how the rules could be modified to achieve their fundamental purposes with minimal burden.

Action by the Commission by Order and Request to Update Record (FCC 00-360). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness and Tristani; Commissioners Furchtgott-Roth and Powell dissenting.

- FCC -

MM Docket No. 83-484
Mass Media Contact: Cynthia Thomas (202) 418-2600