FCC v. WNCN Listeners Guild
450 U.S. 582 (1981)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

FCC v. WNCN Listeners Guild, 450 U.S. 582 (1981)

Federal Communications Commission v. WNCN Listeners Guild

No. 79-824

Argued November 3, 1980

Decided March 24, 1981*

450 U.S. 582

Syllabus

Sections 309(a) and 310(d) of the Communications Act of 1934 (Act) empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant an application for renewal or transfer of a radio broadcast license only if it determines that "the public interest, convenience, and necessity" will be served thereby. In implementation of these provisions, the FCC, pursuant to its rulemaking authority, issued a Policy Statement concluding, with respect to ruling on applications for license renewal or transfer, that the public interest is best served by promoting diversity in a radio station's entertainment formats through market forces and competition among broadcasters, and that review of an applicant station's format changes was not compelled by the Act's language or history, would not advance the radio-listening public's welfare, and would deter innovation in radio programming. On respondent citizen groups' petition for review of the Policy Statement, the Court of Appeals held that it violated the Act, concluding that the FCC's reliance on market forces to develop diversity in programming was an unreasonable interpretation of the Act's public interest standard, and that, in certain circumstances, the FCC is required to regard a change in entertainment format as a substantial and material fact requiring a hearing to determine whether a license renewal or transfer is in the public interest.

Held: The FCC's Policy Statement is not inconsistent with the Act, and is a constitutionally permissible means of implementing the Act's public interest standard. Pp. 450 U. S. 593-604.

(a) The FCC has provided a rational explanation for its conclusion that reliance on the market is the best method of promoting diversity in entertainment formats. It has assessed the benefits and the harm likely to flow from Government review of entertainment programming,

Page 450 U. S. 583

and has conclude that its statutory duties are best fulfilled by not attempting to oversee format change. Pp. 450 U. S. 595-596.

(b) The FCC's implementation of the public interest standard, when based on a rational weighing of competing policies, is not to be set aide by the Court of Appeals, for "the weighing of policies under the public interest' standard is a task that Congress has delegated to the Commission in the first instance." FCC v. National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting,436 U. S. 775, 436 U. S. 810. Here, the FCC's position on review of format changes reflects a reasonable accommodation of the policy of promoting diversity in programming and the policy of avoiding unnecessary restrictions on licensee discretion. P. 450 U. S. 596.

(c) The Policy Statement is consistent with the legislative history of the Act and with the FCC's traditional view that the public interest is best served by promoting diversity in entertainment programing through market forces. Pp. 450 U. S. 597-599.

(d) The Policy Statement does not conflict with the First Amendment rights of listeners, since the FCC seeks to further the interests of the listening public as a whole, and the First Amendment does not grant individual listeners the right to have the FCC review the abandonment of their favorite entertainment programs. Pp. 450 U. S. 603-604.

197 U.S.App.D.C. 319, 610 F.2d 838, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 450 U. S. 604.

Page 450 U. S. 584

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