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Turner Broadcasting System v. Federal Communications Commission

Citation. 22 Ill.520 U.S. 180, 117 S. Ct. 1174, 137 L. Ed. 2d 369, 25 Med. L. Rptr. 1449, 6 CR 829 (1997)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioners, Turner Broadcasting System and a host of other cable companies (Petitioners), brought suit seeking to have the portion of the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 (the Act) dealing with the must-carry provisions applicable to local television stations, declared unconstitutional as an abrogation of their First Amendment constitutional rights.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The rule enunciated by this case is that broadcasters are to be afforded First Amendment rights in freedom of speech, but they cannot abrogate the rights of other broadcasters, or force them out of the market.


The Act included provisions that required cable companies to carry local television stations. These “must-carry” provisions were controversial, in that Petitioners argued they were an abrogation of their First Amendment rights, not to subscribe to other viewpoints. The District Court granted summary judgment for the Respondent, the FCC (Respondent), noting that the governmental interest in including the “must-carry” outweighed the infringement on Petitioners’ speech. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) granted certiorari.


The issue at hand is whether cable companies can be compelled to carry other stations, in violation of their First Amendment constitutional rights.


In reaching its holding, the Supreme Court turned to the O’Brien test for determining whether the governmental interest in maintaining the “must-carry” provisions outweighed the any negative impact upon Petitioners’ First Amendment rights.
The Supreme Court found three substantial governmental interests: (1) the preservation of free local broadcast television; (2) the promotion of widespread dissemination of information from multiple sources (thus allowing the consumer to choose his source of information, rather than be held to the choices of the cable company) and (3) promotion of fair competition.
In considering the governmental interests, the Supreme Court found their benefit outweighed the negligible impact on the cable companies.


Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor) dissented, maintaining that “must-carry” provisions were actually a guise for content regulation, in the inclusion of local programming.
Concurrence. Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens) concurs, noting there would have been a greatly different if the statute was found to regulate content, rather than competition.


While a broadcast company is to be afforded all First Amendment protections, it cannot invoke those protections in abrogating the rights of other broadcaste

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