Supreme Court Declines to Review Case Over Ads on Public TV

Public TV Ad Ban Will Remain

A law restricting advertising on public television will remain in place after the Supreme Court refused to review a case in which a San Francisco station challenged its FCC fine for airing messages from a bevy of commercial sponsors.

Minority Television Project, the license holder for public television station KMTP-TV in San Francisco, sought to overturn lower court rulings that upheld a 1981 law that restricts public stations from airing ads for commercial products or political candidates. The station also said that the court should reconsider a 1969 Supreme Court decision that allowed the government to place some restrictions on broadcast content, arguing that the media landscape had changed so much in the last 45 years. It contended that it didn’t make sense that stations had limits on First Amendment protections while other media do not.

The justices declined the case on Monday without comment.

Late last year, an en banc panel of the 9th Circuit sided with the government, concluding that it had a vested interest in maintaining public television without the influence of for-product sponsors.

KMTP-TV was fined by the FCC in 2002 for running what the agency said were ads for for-profit underwriters, including State Farm, Chevy Impala, Ford Explorer and Korean Airlines. The station is independent and not affiliated with PBS, and some other larger public television stations had warned that allowing ads for for-profit goods and services could undermine their ability to raise money from corporate underwriters and federal and state funding sources.

In 2013, an en banc panel of the 9th Circuit agreed that the government was on solid legal ground and that it had a vested interest in ensuring that public TV retained its non-commercial nature. Public TV is allowed to air underwriting announcements and spots for non profits.


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  1. Messi fanatic says:

    A limited commercial load would hurt no one. Not allowing content interruptions is what is critical. The nature if the message should be of little to no concern provided it has no motion video and no prices or suggestion. Eg.
    “The Antiques Roadshow is made possible by Jaguar, introducing the all new XKE, Jaguar Is proud to assist PBS in financing a true alternative TV station”

  2. Burt Ward says:

    Ever since the sponsored spots were allowed it means that programs can get significant backing and funding without having to take commercial breaks and look more like commercial tv. What makes public tv stations great is that lack of commercial content. They also can justify the numerous telethons they hold to raise funds for the content they air. The model has worked well and it has allowed us to get programs we may not have ever seen because they first appeared on public tv and then moved on to commercial tv when they became popular.

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