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47 U.S.C.S. § 312(a)(7) represents an effort by congress to assure that an important resource -- the airwaves -- will be used in the public interest. The statutory right of access, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission, properly balances U.S. Const. amend. I rights of federal candidates, the public, and broadcasters.
When a presidential committee requested network television time for a candidacy announcement, petitioner network television stations declined to make the requested time available. Respondent Federal Communications Commission determined that petitioners violated their obligation to provide "reasonable access" under 47 U.S.C.S. § 312(a)(7) and directed petitioners to show how they intended to fulfill their statutory obligation. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the respondent’s orders, holding that 47 U.S.C.S. § 312(a)(7) created a new, affirmative right of access to the broadcast media for individual candidates for federal elective office and that petitioners failed to provide access as required by the statute. Petitioners sought review of the decision.
By declining to make the requested time available, did the petitioners violate their obligation to provide "reasonable access" under 47 U.S.C.S. § 312(a)(7)?
The Court held that § 312(a)(7)'s legislative history supported the plain meaning of the statute that individual candidates for federal elective office had a right of reasonable access to the use of stations for paid political broadcasts on behalf of their candidacies, without reference to whether an opponent has secured time. Further, respondent's conclusion regarding the status of the campaign accorded with its announced position on the vesting of § 312(a)(7) rights and was adequately supported by the objective factors on which it relied. Hence, respondent did not abuse its discretion in finding that petitioners failed to grant "reasonable access."