A federal appeals court on Thursday struck down a ban against political advertising on public TV and radio stations, saying it was too broad. The ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco could open the floodgates for an onslaught of campaign ads leading up to the November elections.
The Appeals Court, in a 2-1 vote, ruled that legislation passed by Congress violated the First Amendment by blocking public broadcasters from running political and public-issue ads. "Public-issue and political speech in particular is at the very core of the First Amendment's protection," Judge Carlos Bea wrote in the main opinion. Public-issue and political advertisements pose no threat of commercialization, he said.
Minority Television Project, a nonprofit that runs KMPT-TV in San Francisco, sued after the Federal Communications Commission fined it $10,000 for running paid corporate ads.
"By definition, such advertisements do not encourage viewers to buy commercial goods and services. A ban on such advertising therefore cannot be narrowly tailored to serve the interest of preventing the 'commercialization' of broadcasting,” Bea wrote.
"Of course, following today’s decision, Congress is free to 'try again'," the judgment reads.
"If there truly is evidence that broadcast of public issue and political advertisements would cause substantial harm—that their broadcast would change program content as directly and substantially as would for-profits’ advertising—Congress could compile a record to show as much, and perhaps pass a law restricting such speech."