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Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation

Freedom To Broadcast

The Supreme Court clearly extended First Amendment protections to the electronic media of radio and television. However, since these media can only operate over a limited number of public airways or frequencies, the government may regulate them to assure operational effectiveness and public benefit. Such limitations are considered prior restraint in the print media and not allowed.

Congress created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement its regulations over broadcasting. The FCC issues licenses to broadcast over specific airways, requires broadcasters to provide coverage of public interest issues, and prohibits certain language on the air. Licenses must be awarded neutrally so as not to favor one broadcaster's views over another's.

In the 1940s, the FCC developed a policy known as the "fairness doctrine." The doctrine required broadcasters to provide the opportunity for an individual whose views or records were attacked on air to respond. However, in 1987 the FCC voted to discard the doctrine. In two rulings in the 1970s the Court held that airing all views was not possible. Broadcasters retained the discretion of which views to air. Despite legal challenges, the FCC maintains authority to restrict hours during which offensive programming may be aired.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation - Obscene Or Offensive Speech, Filthy Words, Patently Offensive Language Hits The Fan, Legal Proceedings