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Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Democratic National Committee

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondent, the Democratic National Committee (Respondent) and other public interest groups brought a suit, seeking declaration of their rights to purchase radio airtime for comment on public issues.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. This case stands for the proposition that radio stations are to be afforded the same freedom of the press that is given to newspapers in determining their own content.

    Facts. The Respondents filed a complaint seeking access to airtime under the fairness doctrine. The fairness doctrine caused stations to allocate equal time to different programming, because the availability of airwaves was scarce. The Respondents claimed that they have the right to purchase airtime for the expression of their viewpoints. Their claims were rejected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Court of Appeals reversed and the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) granted certiorari

    Issue. This case presents the issue of whether a radio station can be compelled to sell airtime to public interest organizations for dissemination of their viewpoints, on the premise that airtime is scarce and to be shared.

    Held. Reversed.
    The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) held that it would be a violation of the First Amendment constitutional rights of broadcasting companies to require them to disseminate viewpoints other than their own. Thus, the Respondents claims for equal airtime were denied in favor of the Petitioner, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (Petitioner) freedom of the press.

    Dissent. Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) dissented, noting that, in light of the unique nature of radio airwaves, the First Amendment constitutional freedom of expression rights of the public should also be taken into consideration.
    Concurrence. Justice William Douglass (J. Douglass) concurred, concluding that TV and radio time should be afforded the same protection as the pages of a newspaper.

    Discussion. When considering the First Amendment freedom of the press, consider that this case had the effect of extending that freedom to alternative forms of media, not initially considered by the Framers.


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