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Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission

Citation. 395 U.S. 367, 89 S. Ct. 1794, 23 L. Ed. 2d 371, 1 Med. L. Rptr. 2053 (1969)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A radio station was forced to provide free airtime to a book author whose character was attacked on the air.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Requiring broadcasters to provide rebuttal time for personal attacks is constitutional.


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC/Respondent) required radio and television stations to discuss public issues and present each side fairly, when it implemented the Fairness Doctrine. Red Lion Broadcasting Co. (Petitioner) operates a radio station that aired the “Christian Crusade” series. During one broadcast the speaker commented that the author of a book about Barry Goldwater was fired from a job for making false statements, and stated that he worked for the Communist party. The author felt personally attacked and demanded free airtime to reply. This was refused. Respondent determined that the comments were a personal attack and that Petitioner must give the author rebuttal time.


Can the government require the press to provide equal rebuttal time to victims of personal attacks made during prior broadcasts or publications?


Yes. It is constitutional to obligate radios’ licensees to provide time and attention to matters of public concern. The Fairness Doctrine simply enforces the obligation to the community that is owed by one who is granted a license for a limited publicly beneficial property.


Broadcast frequencies are limited commodities that require government regulation to control. Because of the limited space, licenses were not issued to all who requested one. Therefore, those who are licensed have a greater duty to give time to all viewpoints equally and not censor what is unpopular. The most important consideration is the right of listeners to be informed and exposed to the “marketplace of ideas.”

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