Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC

PETITIONER: Red Lion Broadcasting Co.
RESPONDENT: Federal Communications Commission
LOCATION: Red Lion Broadcasting

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1969)

CITATION: 395 US 367 (1969)
ARGUED: Apr 02, 1969 / Apr 03, 1969
DECIDED: Jun 09, 1969

Archibald Cox - for the respondents in US v. Radio TV News Directors Assn.
Erwin N. Griswold - for the respondent
Roger Robb - for the petitioners

Facts of the case

The appellant, the Red Lion Broadcasting Co. brought suit before the court regarding breach of its rights by the Federal Communication Commission. The reason was that before the start of proceedings the defendant imposed on the plaintiff the accusation of infringement of a broadcaster`s “fairness doctrine”. It established a rule that in case of presenting public problems, each side should be reflected fairly for viewers. It was caused that in one of the programs of the plaintiff personal attack on the journalist, Fred J. Cook happened.

The broadcasting agency argued that it was the breach of his rights under the First Amendment of the US Constitution because of the provision that upheld the rules for stations but limited the freedom of their speech.

The Supreme Court refused the claim of the plaintiff and decided that the Fairness Doctrine was legible. The case study reflects that decision explained that federal authority was empowered to determine that such license and rules for the broadcasters and such control of their actions were in accordance with laws and only for public interests.

The judges concluded that application of the First Amendment was not limited by the mentioned regulations for radio stations but just used the different way of its implementation. Because this Fairness Doctrine was established for public needs with the purpose to inform population with controversial points of general problems.

The case brief also underlines the point of judgment that determined that the rights of viewers and listeners were more principal. The court explained that the doctrine`s goal of the formation of informed society had more significance and didn`t contradict with laws.


Do the FCC's fairness doctrine regulations, concerning personal attacks made in the context of public issue debates and political editorializing, violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech guarantees?

Media for Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 03, 1969 in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1969 in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC

Earl Warren:

Number 2, Red Lion Broadcasting Company Incorporated et al., petitioner, versus Federal Communications Commission et al.

Mr. Robb?

Roger Robb:

May it please the Court, Mr. Chief Justice.

The facts in this case may be briefly stated.

In 1964, the petitioner Red Lion broadcasts a 15-minute program by one Billy James Hargis, in which Mr. Hargis attacked Mr. Fred J. Cook in connection with a book that Mr. Cook had written.

The Hargis talk was part of a series and was carried on a number of other radio stations and Red Lion was paid for the time.

Having learned of the attack, Mr. Cook wrote to Red Lion invoking the so-called personal attack doctrine of the Federal Communications Commission and demanding that he be given time to reply.

In response, Red Lion offered to make time available to Mr. Cook at the station's regular rate, or to give Mr. Cook free time if he stated that he would -- that he could not pay for time.

Mr. Cook rejected the offer of time on a paid basis and refused to state that he could not pay for time.

And he complained to the Federal Communications Commission that Red Lion was in violation of the so-called personal attack doctrine.

The commission ruled that having presented a personal attack on an individual and his honesty, character or integrity in connection with a controversial matter of public importance, Red Lion was bound by the personal attack rule and doctrine.

To inform Mr. Cook, the individual involved of the attack, to send him a tape or a transcript or a summary of the broadcast, and upon his demand to afford him free time to reply.

The commission held that that Mr. Cook was under no obligation to make any showing of inability to pay.

Red Lion was directed it to comply with this ruling.

Red Lion appealed to the Court of Appeals for this circuit which stay in the commission's ruling and this Court thereafter granted certiorari.

I might interpolate that as this Court has recognized, this case is a companion case and closely involved with the next case Number 717, that the Red Lion situation involve a specific application of the rule involved in Number 717.

In the interest of clarity, might be helpful to the outset to suggest certain matters which I conceive are not in issue here.

First, there is no question but that the Hargis broadcast contained a personal attack on Mr. Cook within the meaning of the definition of the F.C.C.

Second, there is no issue as to the truth or falsity of the Hargis broadcast or after the good faith of Hargis in making it or the good faith of Red Lion in broadcasting it.

The ruling of the commission and the opinion of the court below make it clear that these matters where held to be immaterial.

In other words, Red Lion was bound to comply with the commission's order whether the broadcast was true or false, and whether the broadcaster carried it believing it to true or not.

Third and obviously, there is no issue here as to whether Mr. Hargis and his philosophy about Mr. Cook and his are worthy or unworthy.

The issue is simply one of law without regard to the personal beliefs or philosophies of the individuals involved, where otherwise, I might not be here.

Fourth, it is conceded I believe by the Government perhaps with some qualifications that radio and television are part of the press protected by the First Amendment.

Now, I'm informed that Mr. Cox in Number 17-717 will discuss rather fully of the statutory questions involved here.

I would like, if I might, to focus briefly upon the constitutional question.

Simply stated the issue here I suggest is whether or not the order of the Federal Communications Commission to Red Lion imposes a burden of previous restraint upon free speech in the press which is forbidden by the First Amendment.

Does this order imposed on Red Lion a burden?

We submit that obviously it does.

The burden consists of the cost of preparing a tape or a transcript, of sending it to the individual attacked and providing free time, and perhaps and I emphasize this, perhaps providing free time by displacing some other program which is paid for.