The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington has done what time, the weight of evidence and repeated petitions by the RTNDA and NAB were unable to do: force a decision on the fate of the personal-attack and political-editorializing rules. The FCC must either get rid of them, justify why they still exist when the fairness doctrine that undergirded them was held unconstitutional over a decade ago, or, by doing neither, turn the decision over to the court. Delay is no longer an option.
This will be the fifth time in the past three years that the FCC has been told by a court to justify the rules. It has failed to do so, deadlocked along party lines and with the chairman recused because he once argued against the rules when he was at the NAB. But this time, the court has given the FCC a deadline. It has until Sept. 29 to act. Of course, the FCC could stay its course of doing nothing. In that event, after deadline, the court will step in. It will more than likely vacate the rules.
Having decided in 1987 that the fairness doctrine is unconstitutional, the commission has no justification for retaining these rules. So, realistically, either Susan Ness or Gloria Tristani joins the real world and breaks the deadlock, or the FCC throws up its hands once again, which will be the equivalent of a pocket veto. Either way, come October, the personal-attack and political-editorializing rules should be history. About time.