The Federal Communications Commission has ruled that a Washington television station must agree to run advertisements from antiabortion activist and independent presidential candidate Randall Terry, who is seeking to air ads in West Virginia.
Washington's CBS affiliate WUSA refused to run ads from Terry, who is on the presidential ballot in the Mountain State, because the station said it does not serve West Virginia.
In an order released on Wednesday, the FCC's Media Bureau, however, dismissed WUSA's claim. The bureau said that WUSA is required to allow Terry to run ads on the station because he is a legitimate candidate for president in the state and the station's signals reach more than a "de minimis portion" of the population of West Virginia. Stations must give "reasonable" access to their airwaves to legitimate candidates who are running in areas served by those stations' over-the-air signals. The FCC found that WUSA's signals reach at least 3 percent of West Virginia's population.
Given that WUSA's signal "covers more than a de minimis number of people located in the jurisdiction in which Terry is a legally qualified candidate, we believe that it is unreasonable for the station to refuse to provide reasonable access to Terry," the order said.
Some stations have resisted running Terry's ads, which include graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, but have been required to do so based on current law. Stations in Oklahoma were forced to run Terry's ads earlier this year because he was listed as a candidate on the state's Democratic presidential primary ballot. Stations in Colorado and Illinois, however, successfully blocked the ads Terry tried to show during the Super Bowl by arguing to the FCC that he was not a legitimate candidate in those states. Terry has run some ads on West Virginia stations.
"This will be a really gross ad," communications lawyer Andrew Jay Schwartzman, who used to head the Media Access Project, said of ads Terry is seeking to run on WUSA. Despite this, "the highest form of citizenship is one citizen asking other citizens for their vote. That right extends to Randall Terry, whom I loathe."
Schwartzman added that WUSA can try to appeal the order to the full FCC and request a stay from having to air the ads. If the full FCC refuses to grant such a stay, the station will be required to air Terry's TV ads, he said.
The station issued a statement on Thursday saying it will appeal the FCC order. "WUSA's signal does not reach West Virginia, and we disagree with the decision by the FCC staff to require us to broadcast advertisements for Mr. Terry, who is not running for office in Washington, D.C; Maryland; or Virginia," the statement said. "We will be asking the FCC to reconsider its decision."