This case focused on Minority Television Project, which operates KMTP-TV, San Francisco. More than a decade ago, the FCC fined the company for almost 2,000 violations concerning underwriting and advertising between 1999 and 2002.
A 1981 law prohibits public stations from transmitting paid advertisements on behalf of political candidates, issues of public importance or interest, and for-profit entities.
Supporters of the law fear that taking on such political and issue-oriented ads would turn public stations into forums for political attack ads, like those that can be seen on commercial TV programming. Minority ran paid corporate ads from companies such as Ford, General Motors, Korean Air Lines and State Farm.
Public broadcasting outlets constantly worry about both less funding from the government and hard-to-come-by viewer donations.
You can see why some public TV companies want to grab more underwriting dollars, especially in light of the hefty gains commercial TV stations reap during big political advertising seasons. Last year, more than $3 billion was spent on political advertising. Those political advertising dollars continue to climb.
But Congress doesn’t want to change the character of public broadcasting. Some believe freedom of speech, or part thereof, hangs in the balance.
But one circuit court of appeals judge wrote, “A standard that calls on us to distinguish among shades of gray provides scant protection to speech.”
Shades of gray? How much is too much on public TV? What is too little?” He added, “While pretty much nobody likes commercials, it's hardly a fair fight."
Public broadcasting stations are supported by taxpayers’ money, even if a smaller degree than in the past. Then again, in theory, the “public” also owns the airwaves that transmit content from commercial TV stations. So choose your political messaging clutter wisely.