The year is 2017 and there has been a recent disturbing proliferation of hate speech directed against various ethnic groups, often using talk radio as a medium. To counteract this trend, Congress passes a law granting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to make rules to ensure that hate speech is kept off of the airwaves.
Pursuant to this authority, the FCC passes a regulation that states:
Any radio station having been found to have allowed to be broadcast over its airwaves speech that is intended to incite hatred or violence against any group of people at least three (3) times during any given three month period shall be subject to sanctions, up to and including revocation of its license to broadcast, that the Commission deems appropriate.
KHAT, a radio station in Kansas City, Missouri, is accused under this rule. According to FCC administrators, the host of a KHAT afternoon show, on at least seven separate occasions between October and December of 2017, made extremely derogatory remarks about gay people, including statements calling for all gay people to be exiled from the United States and encouraging listeners to actively discriminate against them in housing and employment and to physically attack gay people where possible.
After an administrative hearing, a FCC panel suspends the broadcast license of the station. KHAT sues in federal court, seeking an injunction against the enforcement of this suspension. KHAT claims that its broadcasts at issue are free speech, protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and that the FCC therefore may not take any action against them because of these broadcasts.
Is KHAT correct or may the FCC suspend its license?
Because this is a federal constitutional issue, you may use any federal case law to answer this question. Of course, U.S. Supreme Court cases are best, but lower federal cases may also certainly be used, especially if they are more on point.
Please answer this question using an “IRAC” style essay.
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PLG-110-1502 Assignment: Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure
The case raises the following two issues:
Was the FCC within its legal mandate to suspend the broadcasting license of KHAT radio station?
Were the derogatory broadcast made by KHAT radio presenters protected under the first Amendment, or did they violate it?
Broadcast media such as radio and TV are accorded second-class protection under the First Amendment rule, which protects the editorial speech of presenters.
Broadcast media have a public obligation as highlighted in the case of Red Lion vs. the FCC (1969).
According to the Supreme Court case known as Red Lion Broadcasting vs. the Federal Communications Commission, where the Court unanimously upheld the decision to reregulate content broadcast over radio in the protection of public interests; the same applies to KHAT radio station. KHAT radio station has a public obligation to avoid inciting violence and discrimination against specific groups of people, which is what the TV presenter did. Therefore, FCC had a right to suspend the station’s broadcast license in an effort to protect the public. Although state censorship of broadcast media is highly criticized and there are no laws to limit the content broadcast over TV and radio, state governments and the FCC are allowed to set regulations regarding different media. However, the courts have struck down numerous FCC regulations that were deemed to infringe on the freedom of the press and free speech.
In conclusion, the FCC had the legal grounds to suspend the broadcasting license of KHAT radio based on the Red Lion vs. FCC case where the Supreme Court held that radio stations have a public obligation to act in the best interests of society.
Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission, 395 U.S. 367 (1969).