Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Democratic National Committee

PETITIONER: Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Democratic National Committee
LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 71-863
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 412 US 94 (1973)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1972
DECIDED: May 29, 1973

Erwin N. Griswold -
Ernest W. Jennes - for Post-Newsweek Stations, Capital Area, Inc
Joseph A. Califano, Jr. - for Democratic National Committee
Mr. J. Roger Wollenberg - for Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc
Thomas R. Asher - for Business Executives' Move for Vietnam Peace
Vernon L. Wilkinson - for American Broadcasting Companies, Inc

Facts of the case


Media for Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Democratic National Committee

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1972 in Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Democratic National Committee

Warren E. Burger:

-- hear your argument next in 71-863, Columbia Broadcasting against the Democratic Committee and 864, 865 and 866.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Erwin N. Griswold:

May it please the Court.

This is a group of four related cases all here on writs of certiorari to review the same decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The questions arise out of two proceedings commenced by a separate letter of communications to the Federal Communications Commission.

The first letter of complaint was sent to the Commission on January 22, 1970 by an organization known as Business Executives' Move for Vietnam Peace customarily called BEM in these proceedings.

Now, this complaint appears at page 291 of the appendix.

BEM sought an order from the Communications Commission to compel Washington Radio Station WTOP to run spot announcements against the Vietnam War either free of charge or for a fee.

Although BEM's specific complaint related to advertising time, its arguments were not confined to this.

The substance of the complaint appears near the end at page 296 of the appendix and I will read the first full paragraph at the top of page 296.

“For the reasons stated above, the business executive move for Vietnam Peace request that the Federal Communications Commission ordered WTOP to broadcast free of charge BEM's one minute announcements or in the alternative that the Commission required WTOP to sell BEM airtime for broadcasting of these announcements.

The respondent in that matter Post-Newsweek Stations replied to the complaint by a letter and there were further filings by letter which appears in the appendix.

There was no hearing or any submission of evidence or arguments other than these letters.

The other proceeding before the Commission began on May 19, 1970 when the Democratic National Committee wrote to the Commission requesting a declaratory ruling which would allow it to buy time in order to comment on public issues and solicit funds.

This letter begins on page 15 of the appendix and the essence of it is on the opening page of page 15.

And there, the Democratic National Committee requested the Commission to issue a declaratory ruling that under the First Amendment of the Constitution and the Communications Act, a broadcaster may not as a general policy refuse to sell time to responsible entities such as the DNC for the solicitation of funds and for comment on public issues.

DNC indicated that it wanted the time for the broadcaster's specific programs of varying durations and for spot announcements of varying durations.

DNC said that the primary reason for wanting this time was at it was in debt and it needed the money that television solicitation could bring in.

It did not limit its claim to advertising time.

It relied on the First Amendment but it recognize that even under the -- its First Amendment claims that broadcasters could limit the use of their facilities to, and I quote their words, “responsible spokesman” and it recognize that broadcasters could adopt procedures to ensure that the presentation was in good taste.

The Commission asked for comments from the three broadcasting networks.

The National Broadcasting Company responded that it had no policy against selling time to a political party and that it would permit solicitation of funds on such a program.

It added that it had offered to sell time to DNC but was advised that the Committee did not wish to proceed with the purchase.

Both the American Broadcasting Companies and the Columbia Broadcasting System responded saying in substance that they were bound to comply with the Fairness Doctrine established by the Commission and upheld by this Court in the Red Lion case in 395 U.S.

But that it was their policy not to accept sponsored discussions of political or controversial issues or to allow solicitation funds.

The position of CBS may be summarized by referring to page 51 of the appendix, about two inches from the top of the text.

In adopting this policy we concluded that we could not provide coverage of significant issues with fairness and balance if partisans with strong financial resources could preempt our facilities to present their viewpoints on issues they select.

A policy of selling time to partisans within our view necessarily distort the matter in which issues were presented to the listening and viewing public.

CBS has concluded that as a licensee and a medium with a finite amount of time to provide news, information and entertainment, we best serve the public by presenting issues and view points within a balance programed schedule utilizing news worthiness as a sole criteria.

On August 5, 1970 the Commission denied BEM's complaint.