Court Rules in Favor of Local TV Stations Cable Systems Must Keep Showing Their Programs, Justices Decide in 5-4 Vote

Article excerpt

The government can force cable television systems to carry local broadcast stations, the Supreme Court said Monday in a decision that could serve as a stay of execution for small, independent channels.

The 5-4 ruling rejected cable companies' argument that a 1992 federal "must carry" law violates their free-speech rights by forcing them to carry stations they would rather drop.

The justices said the measure is a lawful effort to preserve broadcast television and ensure public access to information from a variety of sources. More than 60 percent of American households subscribe to cable TV. The decision means those customers will continue to receive local broadcast stations on their cable systems. "Broadcast television is an important source of information to many Americans," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court. "For decades now it has been an essential part of the national discourse on subjects across the whole broad spectrum of speech, thought and expression." There is heavy competition for space on cable systems because many new cable networks have been created in recent years. Cable companies voluntarily carry network-affiliated broadcast stations because of their large viewership. But smaller, independent broadcast channels feared that without the must-carry rule, cable systems would drop them. The stations then could lose advertising and face going out of business, the broadcasters contended. Broadcasters praised the ruling, while cable TV officials were disappointed. "We're elated the Supreme Court has recognized the historic importance of preserving free over-the-air television for all Americans," said Eddie Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters. …