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Federal Communications Commission
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Washington, D.C. 20554
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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


Unfortunately, despite considerable efforts, the Commission has not yet been able to forge agreement on any course of action affecting the personal attack and political editorial rules.

With an unprecedented 80% turnover in Commission membership expected this Fall, one of our first major responsibilities will be to review the public interest responsibilities of broadcasters in the digital world. In that context, or separately and simultaneously, our review of the personal attack and political editorial rules should be completed. I hope that the Court of Appeals will give the Commission the latitude to proceed in this fashion.

In my judgment, the record at this time does not support repeal of the personal attack and political editorial rules or provide sufficient information upon which to make final judgments about ways in which they might be modified. Indeed, the record before us does not reflect developments such as two major Supreme Court cases casting light on the relationship of broadcasting to the First Amendment, the issuance of three Commission orders enabling television broadcasting to be transformed by the use of digital transmission technologies, and the President's creation of a blue-ribbon committee to evaluate the public interest responsibilities of broadcasters in a digital environment.

The increasing ownership concentration of the broadcast marketplace and the rapidly changing technological and competitive conditions make it timely to reexamine the personal attack and political editorial rules within the context of the overall public interest requirements of broadcasters. In our Digital Television proceeding, we committed to conducting an examination of the public interest of broadcasters in a digital environment. Together with the work of the President's advisory committee and any related hearings that may be conducted by the Congress, there will ample opportunity for a robust public debate on these fundamental issues.

In light of these developments, I would have preferred that we seek additional public comment on both the personal attack and political editorial rules. I believe we should have sought specific comment on the extent to which the purposes of each of these rules remain valid and whether the specific requirements that are part of these rules might be simplified or eliminated. But this proposal, like others that were considered, did not secure support from a majority of the Commissioners.

Ever since the Radio Act of 1927, the Congress has required broadcast licensees to serve the public interest. This trusteeship is critical to the vitality of our democracy because allAmericans, not just those who choose to subscribe, are able to receive free, over-the-air radio and television broadcasts. Contrary to some suggestions and to our ill-founded dictum regarding spectrum scarcity in Syracuse Peace Council (1987), broadcasting has not lost its special character -- with unique privileges and powers and unique responsibilities as well. This is apparent from the Supreme Court decisions this very term on must-carry (Turner, 1997) and the Internet (ACLU v. Reno, 1997). Moreover, Congress recently and specifically determined that public interest responsibilities shall continue as television broadcasters transition to a digital environment. 47 U.S.C. Sec. 336(d) ("Nothing in this section shall be construed as relieving a television broadcasting station from its obligation to serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity").

Regrettably, debates concerning the public interest obligations of broadcasters have too often been cast in extreme terms. On the one hand, the First Amendment can be invoked as an excuse to keep the public interest responsibilities of broadcasters as vague, unenforceable, and unaccountable as possible. On the other, concern for the public interest can be invoked to justify an activist government role that seems insensitive to the First Amendment protections that are the birthright of all American citizens, including broadcasters. But, when the debate is carried on in this manner, real progress on concrete issues is hindered. At the end of the day, our decisions must serve First Amendment values and the public interest responsibilities that are inherent in broadcasting.

I hope that our future consideration of these issues demonstrates that polar characterizations of both the First Amendment and the public interest present a false choice. The First Amendment is in the public interest. And the public interest can be well-served, and advanced, without impinging upon the values served by the First Amendment.

I look forward to working with my new colleagues on the Commission to resolve these issues.