THE BLOG
04/25/2014 02:26 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2014

Put Simply, We've Had Enough: No More "Private Opinion" Ads On Radio and TV

Put simply -- we had enough of radio and TV commercials intended only to expose us to someone else's political or social opinion. It can, and it should be stopped. It's happened before. It can happen again.

The last time a cigarette commercial was heard or seen on American radio and television was on Friday January 1, 1971. At the strong urging of the Federal Communications Commission, Congress passed The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1970, and President Richard M. Nixon signed that Act into law. All access to broadcast advertising for tobacco products was henceforth banned. Stations were forbidden to sell time to tobacco companies. A Democratic Congress, a Republican president and a non-partisan federal agency all cooperated to prevent the promotion of deadly smoking products on the public airways. As a last gasp parting gift the new law went into effect January 2nd instead of the first day of the new year, 1971. This allowed the cigarette industry one last smoking moment, an opportunity to run their final commercials in the New Year's Day college football bowl games.

Some 40 years before Condoleezza Rice's stunning declaration that "no one could have imagined..." referring to the attack of 9/11, in the olden days before 1/2/1971, no one truly could have imagined TV and radio without cigarette commercials. They were the most frequently aired ads on both radio and TV. Those who imagined it as a nightmare were, of course, radio and TV station owners. With this single act of governance, radio and TV lost their biggest customer, spending an amount of money so vast it was hard to visualize its extinction. The combined cigarette revenue for radio and TV stations at the time of the ban was $220 million yearly, or practically 10 percent of all broadcast revenue. This would be, in 2014 dollars, approximately $1.320 billion!

Imagine, if you can, the courage it must have taken in 1970 for Congress and the President to deprive the big tobacco companies access to the media, and at the same time, tell media owners they must forego the easiest sales to their richest customers.

Today, in the fifth decade since that remarkable legislation and regulation, our Congress, our President and the FCC have another opportunity to add to the public health and well-being. We should now ban all non-candidate sponsored TV and radio "opinion" advertising. No more "private" political ads and no more "issue" ads from any source. This can be and should be done. Nothing in law prevents such a restriction. There is no constitutional right to advertise.

The First Amendment has never covered the commercial sale of broadcast time. There is nothing in the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that provides any person or organization a right to buy time on America's publicly owned airwaves. The Court ruled that just about anyone or any entity has a constitutional right to spend, but the Court did not and never has even hinted at a right to buy. You have a right to spend what you please, but I, as a licensee, am not obliged to sell you anything. Under FCC rules and regulations since 1934, no radio or TV station is required to sell time to any advertiser. Just because you can afford to buy the time doesn't mean the station has to sell it to you. No explanation is called for when such a refusal to sell occurs. All commercial time sales are at the discretion of station management. In short, no PAC, Super-PAC or private organization has any constitutional right to run commercials on the public airwaves. Official candidates for office do have certain rights, only exercisable at specific times, to purchase a proscribed amount broadcast time. But no one else enjoys such access.

Remember, no person or company "owns" any television or radio station. What those who call themselves "owners" have is a government issued license to operate on a specific frequency or channel for a limited time period. While holding that license they are allowed to sell time to anyone they please, except tobacco products. No one can simply build their own radio or TV station and go on-the-air. The American people own all radio frequencies and TV channels and, via license, the federal government regulates all broadcasting originating in the United States. In 1970, no one seriously questioned the right of Congress to regulate cigarette advertising on radio and TV. And no serious complaint could be lodged regarding a similar ban today, this time on privately purchased commercial time where the message to be aired serves no commercial purpose, and instead only expresses a personal opinion about a political candidate or social issue. The time has come when all such "advertising" should be halted.

Put simply -- we've had enough.

The legislation for this can be simple too. By law, we should forbid all "opinion" advertising on radio and television. That would include any commercial that does not exclusively promote or sell a product or service. A commercial should be just that -- commercial. If you have a product or service to sell or promote, fine. If, however, you or your organization have only your personal opinion, which you wish to share, you should not be allowed to use the public airwaves for that purpose no matter who holds the station's license. Just as you cannot buy time if you are selling cigarettes, you ought to be made to look elsewhere if all you want to do is spread your personal opinions on our radio and TV airwaves.

What a Democratic Congress and a Republican President did in 1970, a Republican Congress and a Democratic President can do today.

Put simply -- we've had enough.