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Public broadcasting operators taken to court

<<On Sun, 4 Mar 2001 00:03:40 -0500, "Dan Strassberg" <Dan.Strassberg@att.net> said:

> Missouri Public Radio (I think that was the network) refused to
> accept a donation from the KKK.

I don't recall this.  What I think you are recalling is a somewhat
different case which was decided by the Supreme Court in 1988,
Arkansas Ed. Television Comm'n v. Forbes (523 U.S. 666, for those with
access to legal references).

It did involve a public broadcaster in one of the mid-western
states, but the issue centered not around underwriting but rather a
candidates' debate organized by Arkansas Public TV.  Quoting from the

	Petitioner Arkansas Educational Television Commission (AETC),
	a state-owned public television broadcaster, sponsored a
	debate between the major party candidates for the 1992
	election in Arkansas' Third Congressional District. When AETC
	denied the request of respondent Forbes, an independent
	candidate with little popular support, for permission to
	participate in the debate, Forbes filed this suit, claiming,
	inter alia, that he was entitled to participate under the
	First Amendment. The jury made express findings that Forbes'
	exclusion had not been influenced by political pressure or
	disagreement with his views. The District Court entered
	judgment for AETC.  The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that
	the debate was a public forum to which all ballot-qualified
	candidates had a presumptive right of access. Applying strict
	scrutiny, the court determined that AETC's assessment of
	Forbes' "political viability" was neither a compelling nor a
	narrowly tailored reason for excluding him.

	Held: AETC's exclusion of Forbes from the debate was
	consistent with the First Amendment. Pp. 4-16.

The breakdown of the justices' votes in this case is quite
interesting: Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, supported by
Justices Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas, and Breyer; the other
justices joined in a dissent written by Justice Stevens.  This is not
the usual combination one expects to see in an ostensible free-speech
case.  For those interested in such things, the court did unanimously
agree that ``a state-owned television network has no `constitutional
obligation to allow every candidate access to' political debates that
it sponsors''.  

In a previous case involving the same parties, the court had held that
employees of such a network are ``not ordinary journalists: they [are]
employees of government''; as a result, state-owned public
broadcasters are subject to additional First Amendment scrutiny that
private broadcasters (whether NCE or commercial) are not.


Garrett A. Wollman   | O Siem / We are all family / O Siem / We're all the same
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