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Private Ads on Public TV? Courts Say No Way
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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The public domain has always been free from private pressures — the money many network and cable stations see skips those stations like NPR and PBS. 

At least, that was the point of question at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week.

The story: Minority TV Project, the company that runs San Francisco's KMTP-TV, was found guilty by the FCC for violating advertising restrictions between 1999–2002. The company sued, saying that it did no such thing and was within its legal rights and was protected by freedom of speech.

Looks like there's a limit to that freedom.

The judge, Margaret McKeown, applied the "intermediate scrutiny" test with TV, and stated that Congress had every right to deny private funds in an effort to "preserve the essence of public television."

The most interesting part to us about this whole episode is the fact that so few advertising folks covered this. Everyone is so glued to the FTC's interest on native advertising, the fact that a Circuit Court could have allowed corporate ads on public television flew under the radar.

We are not too sure about where we stand on this issue. We think it's mighty noble for Congress to protect public television, but why deny the industry funds that could help it recruit talent, produce better shows, and become an actual competitor in the marketplace? True, in order to keep it "open" — meaning to not let the money spent influence programming — the contracts and agreements would be interesting balancing acts. Why not try it?

The goal for public television (and public access TV) was originally to provide media to the general public without them having to subscribe to corporate influence. The idea that the regular citizen deserved to have access to a medium to receive and give information was paramount to such an invasive media that television once was.

Times have changed. 

So we get the idea of making public television a "common good," but a common good should be given the common tools to compete. Let advertising help.


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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