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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).

August 11, 1997


Re: Repeal or Modification of the FCC's Personal Attack and Political Editorial Rules, 47 C.F.R. §§ 73.1920, 73.1930, 76.209(b), (c), (d).

In June 1983, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposed to eliminate our "personal attack" and "political editorial" rules.(1) Fourteen years later, this proceeding remains unresolved and, unfortunately, will remain so into the indefinite future despite our efforts. At this time, my colleagues and I are unable to find a majority vote to take further action on this NPRM.

For the record, I would have voted to repeal both the personal attack and political editorial rules and terminate this proceeding. It is not an acceptable answer for me to continue studying these rules ad nauseam. I do not believe that is what the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had in mind last February when it rebuffed the Radio-Television News Directors Association's (RTNDA) effort to force us to resolve this rulemaking.(2) Rather, the Court invited RTNDA to renew its request "should the Federal Communications Commission fail to make significant progress within the next six months, toward the possible repeal or modification of the personal attack and political editorial rules."(3) The Court was clearly prompting the Commission to resolve this 14-year-old proceeding within six months, and it was clear to me that the Court's preferred answer was to either "repeal" or "modify" these rules. I regret that we have disappointed them.

In my view, the record before us adequately demonstrates that these rules do not serve their intended purpose. They do not further discussion of important public issues -- in fact, they inhibit it. The personal attack rule, for example, has been invoked largely as a substitute for defamation suits and serves primarily to escalate personal quarrels than illuminate public debate. It is not only ineffective, but it is inconsistent with the constitutional standards that govern defamation actions as set forth by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan.(4) This rule needlessly limits the constitutional protection available to broadcasters. For this reason, I would have repealed it.

I would also have repealed the political editorial rule for much the same reason. The record shows that the political editorial rule has a chilling effect on broadcasters who wish to express their views. The rule places burdens on broadcasters that are beyond what Congress contemplated when it enacted Section 315 of the Communications Act.(5) I see no public interest reason to treat broadcasters as second class citizens in this regard, subject to different rules than other media and other political advocates. For this reason, I would end this disparate treatment and also repeal this rule.

In the spirit of compromise, I would have agreed to repeal the personal attack rule but put the political editorial rule out for further notice, but it is disappointing that we could not find a majority to support even this reasonable compromise.


1. Repeal or Modification of the Personal Attack and Political Editorial Rules, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Gen. Docket 83-484, RM-3739, 48 Fed. Reg. 28295 (June 21, 1983).

2. In re: Radio-Television News Directors Association, Case No. 96-1338, February 7, 1997.

3. Id.

4. 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964).

5. 47 U.S.C. § 315(a).