Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, the Arkansas Educational Television Communication (Petitioner), denied the Respondent, Ralph Forbes (Respondent) an independent candidate running for Arkansas’ Third Congressional District, the opportunity to participate in a televised debate with the other candidates for the Third Congressional District. The Petitioner denied the Respondent this opportunity based on its bona vide journalistic judgment that the viewers would be best served by limiting the debate to the candidates already invited.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The exclusion of a speaker from a nonpublic forum must be reasonable and viewpoint neutral.
Issue. Whether a state-owned public television station had a constitutional obligation to allow every candidate access to a televised debate?
Held. The television station’s decision to exclude a candidate was a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral exercise of journalistic discretion consistent with the First Amendment of the Constitution.
In most cases, the First Amendment of the Constitution by its own force does not compel public broadcasters to allow third parties access to their programming.
Although public broadcasting as a general matter does not lend itself to scrutiny under the forum doctrine, candidate debates present the narrow exception to the rule
The debate was a non public forum, as the debate was not generally available to candidates. Rather, the Petitioner reserved eligibility for participation in the debate to candidates for the Third Congressional District seat, thus, making a candidate by candidate determination as to which of the eligible candidates would participate in the debate.
The exclusion of a speaker from a nonpublic forum must not be based on the speaker’s viewpoint and must otherwise be reasonable in light of the purpose.
Dissent. The issue in this case should be whether Petitioner defined the contours of the debate forum with sufficient specificity to justify the exclusion of a ballot-qualified candidate and not whether the Petitioner created a designated public forum or nonpublic forum.
Discussion. The breadth of the power of the government to regulate conduct associated with speech and assembly depends whether the forum involved is a public forum, a designated public forum or a nonpublic forum. Public forums are public places that have been historically been open to speech-related activities, such as the street, sidewalk or public parks. Designated public forums which have not historically been open to speech related activities, but are places which the government has opened to such activities on a limited basis, such as school rooms that are used after school for civic groups. The government can regulate speech in public forums and designated public forums with reasonable time, place and manner regulations that are content neutral; are narrowly tailored to serve a important government interest and alternative channels of communication open. Nonpublic forums are places that have not been historically linked with speech related activities and places which the govern
ment has not held open for speech activities, such as military bases and government workplaces. Regulations of speech activities in nonpublic forums are valid if they are viewpoint neutral and reasonably related to a legitimate government interest.