The Past and Future of Presidential Debates

By Austin Ranney | Go to book overview

2
Historical Evolution of Section 315

Nicholas Zapple

The application of the First Amendment principles to broadcast communications is a complex problem that has challenged the Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and constitutional scholars since the early days of broadcasting. Efforts to regulate radio communication confront unique problems not present in other forms of mass communication. Because of the finite nature of the radio spectrum, substantially more individuals want to broadcast than there are frequencies to allocate.

As a consequence, those who have the good fortune to receive a license are treated as trustees of a valuable public resource and have imposed upon them certain responsibilities to serve the public -- the viewer and the listener. These responsibilities were described by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit when it stated:

A broadcaster has much in common with a newspaper publisher, but he is not in the same category in terms of public obligation imposed by law. A broadcaster seeks and is granted the free and exclusive use of a limited and valuable part of the public domain; when he accepts that franchise, it is burdened with enforceable public obligations. A newspaper can be operated at the whim or caprice of its owners; a broadcasting station cannot . . . [A] broadcast license is a public trust subject to termination for breach of duty.1


Origins and Early Interpretations of Section 315

One of the conditions imposed on every licensee was first set forth in Section 315(a), the so-called equal time section, of the Communications Act of 1934:

____________________
1
Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ v. FCC, 359 FCC 2nd 994, 1003 ( 1966).

-56-

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The Past and Future of Presidential Debates
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface *
  • 1 - Presidential Candidate "Debates": What Can We Learn from 1960 1
  • Discussion 51
  • 2 - Historical Evolution of Section 315 56
  • Discussion 70
  • 3 - Presidential Debates: an Empirical Assessment 75
  • Discussion 102
  • 4 - The 1976 Presidential Debates: a Republican Perspective 107
  • Discussion 131
  • 5 - Did the Debates Help Jimmy Carter? 137
  • Discussion 147
  • 6 - The Case for Permanent Presidential Debates 155
  • Discussion 169
  • 7 - Debatable Thoughts on Presidential Debates 175
  • Discussion 187
  • 8 - Presidential Debates: an Overview 191
  • Discussion 206
  • Bibliography 215
  • Contributors 225
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