The FCC today asked for public comments on the petition of the MusicFirst Coalition asking the Commission to take action against broadcast stations who did not fairly address on air the proposed sound recording public performance royalty for terrestrial radio. The Petition, about which we wrote here, alleges, with very few specifics, that some radio stations have taken adverse actions against musical artists who have spoken out in support of the royalty, and also that stations have refused to run ads supporting the performance royalty while running their own ads opposing the royalty (opposing ads which MusicFirst claims contain false statements). MusicFirst submits that these actions are contrary to the public interest. The FCC has asked for comment on specific issues raised in the Petition. Comments are to be filed by September 8, and Replies on September 23.
The specific questions on which the FCC seeks comment are as follows:
(i) whether and to what extent certain broadcasters are “targeting and threatening artists who have spoken out in favor of the PRA, including a refusal to air the music of such artists";
(ii) the effects of radio broadcasters’ alleged refusal to air advertisements from MusicFIRST in support of the PRA;
(iii) whether and to what extent broadcasters are engaging in a media campaign, coordinated by NAB, which disseminates falsities about the PRA; and
(iv) whether certain broadcasters have evaded the public file requirements by characterizing their on-air spots in opposition to the PRA as public service announcements.
While we were concerned about the fact that the Commission is seeking these comments potentially indicating that the FCC might feel that the broadcaster has some obligation to address all sides of all controversial issues, implying that there is life in some vestige of the Fairness Doctrine, we were heartened by the FCC’s acknowledgment of the First Amendment issues that the petition raises. The Commission stated:
We recognize that substantial First Amendment interests are involved in the examination of speech of any kind, and it is not clear whether remedies are necessary or available to address the actions alleged by MusicFIRST.