WASHINGTON — Ending a long impasse, FCC chairman William Kennard announced Monday he will no longer recuse himself from deciding the fate of the commission’s personal attack and political editorial rules.
For years, the National Assn. of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Radio-Television News Directors Assn. (RTNDA) have urged the FCC and the courts to overturn the rules because they were adopted in 1967 to support the Fairness Doctrine — a doctrine which was itself overturned in 1987.
The FCC has deadlocked several times over the repeal of the personal attack and political editorial provisions, most recently because of Kennard’s recusal from voting on the issue since he worked on behalf of the NAB as a junior attorney in the 1980s. The four other FCC commissioners are split down the middle on the repeal of the rules.
Kennard’s announcement Monday precedes a Sept. 29 deadline set by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia asking for the FCC to detail its position on the matter.
While government ethics officers had told Kennard it would not be a conflict for him to vote on the issue, he nevertheless excused himself. He said in a statement released Monday that the public interest now outweighs the reasons for his earlier decision to stand on the sidelines.
“In addition, the D.C. Circuit on more than one occasion remanded the matter back to the Commission to provide a definitive determination on the issues, and has shown apparent frustration with the Commission’s failure to act. I am very concerned that this situation not continue,” Kennard said.
Further, Kennard said the NAB and RTNDA have “made clear” that he participate in the proceedings.
At the same time, Kennard did not reveal how he would vote on the fate of the rules.
The personal attack and political editorial rules require broadcasters to provide “a reasonable opportunity to respond” to any person who is the subject of an on-air attack or a candidate who is an opponent of the broadcast licensee.
The NAB and RTNDA have long argued that the rules are arcane in nature, stifling the broadcasters’ First Amendment rights.