Court overturns political ad ban on public media shows

David Brancaccio Apr 13, 2012

David Brancaccio: A federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled that public radio and TV stations cannot be barred from running political messages, or political “underwriting announcements” as they’re called in the system. The ruling upheld the current ban on non-p0litical outright advertising on public stations. But does this mean public stations are about to get a flood of paid campaign messages?

Ken Stern is the former president of National Public Radio in Washington. Good morning Mr. Stern.

Ken Stern: Good morning, David.

Brancaccio: So, does this appeals court ruling suggest to you that political ads are coming to public radio?

Stern: I doubt it, at least in the near term. Political ads are big business now for commercial radio and television stations. I think public broadcasters will have to be very cautious in taking political ads now. Political ads would probably be pretty jarring to their audiences, and any public broadcaster would have to weigh sort of the economic value of that against the possibility of alienating their audience. So I think they’ll be pretty cautious moving into this space.

Brancaccio: What you’re saying is that, really, the public radio audience will have a voice in this.

Stern: Well, they have a voice and also they’re donors. A lot of the dialogue around this is going to be about money, and the biggest source of income to public radio and public television are donors. Even if it’s just an economic equation, as opposed to a judgment about what’s right or wrong. Public broadcasters are not going to want to do anything to alienate their donor base.

Brancaccio: Now of course commercial broadcasters get a lot of money from political advertising. Presumably, the commercial industry may feel aggrieved about new competition if these ads were to come to public radio.

Stern: Well, it is a lot of money for commercial broadcasters. I think the most unhappy people in the country about Rick Santorum dropping out of the race were radio and television stations in Pennsylvania, because they missed out on the ads from that primary. But there already is competition between public broadcasting and commercial broadcasting for promotional dollars. This is just a small piece of a larger competition that has existed for years.

Brancaccio: Kenneth Stern, former CEO of NPR. Thank you very much for this.

Stern: Sure. My pleasure to be with you.

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