“My Name is Big Bird, and I approve this message.”
When campaign season is in full swing and you want to watch television free from attack ads, there is an oasis of campaign-free TV: PBS.
Thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, public broadcasting will remain free of political advertising for the time being.
Public television stations are unable to accept paid TV advertisements or political campaigns and other advertisements for issues of public interest. Minority Television Project, the operator of KMTP in the greater San Francisco area, sought to have the ban overturned. The court declined to overturn the FCC’s ruling on this and upheld the ban by a vote of 8-3.
In the majority opinion written by Judge Margaret McKeown, the court relied upon reports from the Government Accountability Office, the Temporary Commission on Alternative Financing for Public Telecommunications and expert witness. The conclusion was that allowing that type of advertising would alter the nature of public broadcasting, as well as the type of programs they run.
In a partial concurrence and partial dissent, Judge Consuelo María Callahan upheld the prohibition for commercial advertising, but saw that there was a First Amendment violation by not allowing advertisements on issues of public importance and for political candidates. In a strongly worded dissent written by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and joined by Judge John Noonan, the minority argued that this type of restriction is counter to the First amendment.
This case could be appealed to the Supreme Court, but for now commercial advertisements and political speech will remain off of PBS.
That won’t necessarily stop candidates for president from threatening federal funding for the Public Broadcasting Service, as Republican Mitt Romney did in the last campaign’s debates — while noting his affection for Big Bird.