FCC: Chicago station can drop graphic antiabortion ad during Super Bowl

Antiabortion activist Randall Terry, a write-in candidate for president, demanded that a Chicago station run an ad showing aborted fetuses during the Super Bowl. The FCC ruled against him.

Cheryl Senter/AP
Antiabortion activist and presidential candidate Randall Terry, shown here in December 2011 at a New Hampshire forum for lesser-known candidates, demanded that a Chicago TV station show an ad showing aborted fetuses during the Super Bowl.

A Chicago television station has the right to refuse Randall Terry’s request to air an antiabortion ad during the Super Bowl, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled Friday afternoon.

The longtime antiabortion activist has been running for president on some states’ Democratic primary ballots. He has used that position to take advantage of FCC rules giving candidates access to air ads in advance of primaries or elections.

While stations in four states do plan to air the graphic ad during their Super Bowl, WMAQ-TV in Chicago denied Mr. Terry’s request, prompting Terry to file a complaint with the FCC.

The FCC ruled that the station was reasonable to conclude that “Terry did not make a substantial showing that he is a legally qualified candidate entitled to reasonable access to broadcast stations in Illinois.”

Furthermore, even if he were qualified, “he would not be entitled to particular placement of his spots on a particular program on a station’s broadcast schedule,” the FCC ruled.

Based on the ruling, several other stations will perhaps deny similar requests by Terry for Super Bowl airtime.

Terry had tried to show that he had engaged in enough campaign activities to qualify, even though he is a write-in candidate in about 75 counties rather than having his name appear on the ballot in Illinois.

But the FCC sided with the station, reiterating WMAQ’s claim that Terry didn’t give sufficient evidence that he campaigned throughout the state. While Terry did give the station some examples of campaign literature, he did not indicate where it had been distributed, the ruling noted.

It was also not unreasonable for the station to take into consideration a letter from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) stating that Terry was not a bona fide candidate for the Democratic nomination, the FCC ruled.

The ruling also clarified that stations have some discretion over when to air candidates’ ads. Because they have to offer balanced opportunities for all legitimate candidates who seek airtime, a prime slot such as the once-a-year Super Bowl is not necessarily a reasonable request, the FCC noted.

“[I]t may well be impossible, given the station’s limited spot inventory for that broadcast, including the pre-game and post-game shows, to provide reasonable access to all eligible federal candidates who request time during that broadcast,” the ruling said. “[W]e do not find WMAQ’s refusal to sell time to Terry specifically during the Super Bowl broadcast to be unreasonable.”

Terry could not be reached for comment before publication of this story, but in an interview before the ruling, he said he would take WMAQ, the FCC, and possibly even the DNC to court if the FCC did not rule in his favor.

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