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Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commn.

United States Supreme Court
395 U.S. 367 (1969)


The “fairness doctrine” of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) (defendant) imposes on radio and television broadcasters the requirement that discussion of public issues be presented on broadcast stations, and that each side of those issues be given fair coverage. The fairness doctrine also incorporates protection from personal attacks in the context of controversial public issues. An author felt he was attacked by guests on a radio show operated by Red Lion Broadcasting Co. (Red Lion) (plaintiff). He filed a complaint with the FCC against Red Lion after the broadcaster refused to grant him additional airtime to reply to the offensive broadcast, arguing that Red Lion’s actions violated the fairness doctrine. Red Lion challenged the fairness doctrine. In the Red Lion suit, the court of appeals upheld the FCC’s decision that Red Lion failed to comply with the fairness doctrine and should provide the offended author with reply time. During this litigation, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making with an eye to making the personal attack aspect of the fairness doctrine more precise and more readily enforceable, along with specifying its rules relating to political editorials. RTNDA (plaintiff) brought an action to review the FCC’s promulgation of these personal attack and political editorializing regulations. In the RTNDA suit, the court of appeals held that the FCC’s two new rules were unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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