RED LION BROADCASTING CO.V. FCC

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
2
Petitioner 
Red Lion Broadcasting Co.
Respondent 
FCC
Consolidation 
No. 717
Argued 
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the respondents in US v. Radio TV News Directors Assn)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners, Red Lion Broadcasting)
(Argued the cause for the United States as petitioner in US v. Radio TV News Directors Assn and the FCC as respondent in Red Lion)
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Facts of the Case 

The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) fairness doctrine requires radio and television broadcasters to present a balanced and fair discussion of public issues on the airwaves. The doctrine is composed of two primary requirements concerning personal attacks in the context of public issue debates and political editorializing. The FCC conditioned its renewal of broadcast licenses on compliance with its regulations. Red Lion Broadcasting challenged the application of the fairness doctrine with respect to a particular broadcast. In a companion case (United States v. Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA)), the fairness doctrine's requirements concerning any broadcast were challenged.

Question 

Do the FCC's fairness doctrine regulations, concerning personal attacks made in the context of public issue debates and political editorializing, violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech guarantees?

Conclusion 
Decision: 7 votes for , 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

In a unanimous decision, the Court held that the fairness doctrine was consistent with the First Amendment. Writing for the Court, Justice White argued that spectrum scarcity made it "idle to posit an unabridgeable First Amendment right to broadcast comparable to the right of every individual to speak, write, or publish." The Court held that the FCC's fairness doctrine regulations enhanced rather than infringed the freedoms of speech protected under the First Amendment. With respect to the regulation of personal attacks made in the context of public issue debates, the FCC's requirement that the subject of the attack be provided with a tape, transcript, or broadcast summary, as well as an opportunity to respond without having to prove an inability to pay for the "air-time," insured a balanced and open discussion of contested issues. The requirement that political editorializing be presented for and against both sides of the debated issues also contributed to the balanced discussion of public concerns.

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RED LION BROADCASTING CO.V. FCC. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 14 August 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_2_2>.
RED LION BROADCASTING CO.V. FCC, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_2_2 (last visited August 14, 2014).
"RED LION BROADCASTING CO.V. FCC," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 14, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_2_2.