Law School Case Brief
Red Lion Broad. Co. v. FCC - 395 U.S. 367, 89 S. Ct. 1794 (1969)
It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to encourage monopolization of that market, whether it be by the government itself or a private licensee. Speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government. It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, aesthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences that is crucial. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the Federal Communications Commission.
The parties from separate cases sought to determine the legality of the fairness doctrine and component rules promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a petitioner in one case and the respondent in the other.
In one case (No. 2) the broadcasting company carried, as part of a "Christian Crusade" series, a 15-minute broadcast in which a third person's honesty and character were attacked. His demand for free reply time was refused by the station. The Federal Communications Commission issued a declaratory order to the effect that the station had failed to meet its obligation under the Commission's fairness doctrine. On review in the Court of Appeals, the Commission's position was upheld. The other case (No. 717) involved regulations, adopted by the Commission after the commencement of the litigation in No. 2, which make the personal attack aspect of the fairness doctrine more precise and more readily enforceable, and which also specified the Commission's rules relating to political editorials. On review of the rule-making proceeding, the Court of Appeals held that the rules were unconstitutional as abridging the freedoms of speech and press.
Were the rules and regulations of the Federal Communications Commission which require, as part of the Commission's general fairness doctrine, broadcasters to offer to an individual personally attacked in broadcasts, and to political opponents of those candidates who were indorsed by a station, a reasonable opportunity to respond over the licensee's facilities constitutional?
The Court reversed the judgment in the second case and affirmed the judgment in the first. The Court held that in view of the scarcity of broadcast frequencies the Federal Communications Commission's role in allocating those frequencies in "the public interest" was both authorized by statute and constitutional. The Court concluded that as enforced sharing of a scarce resource, the personal attack and political editorial rules were indistinguishable from the equal-time provision of the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C.S. § 315, which was a specific enactment of Congress to which the challenged regulations were important complements.
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