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Political ads would soil public airwaves

Re “AFTER court ruling, PUBLIC broadcasters ponder political ads” (Page A1, April 19): Noncommercial public broadcasting needs to stay that way, and not sell out to the forces of commercialism. Underwriting announcements are already often pushing the edge of the envelope by violating Federal Communications Commission guidelines. Adding paid political ads would further compromise the integrity of nonprofit broadcast media.

The rules for paid political announcements have some built-in pitfalls. According to FCC regulations 312a and 315, licensed broadcasters cannot cherry-pick which ads to run; they either have to turn down all paid political ads, or accept them all. The broadcasters cannot regulate or alter content; this responsibility falls upon the candidate’s committee. However, issue ads and ads sponsored by super pacs may not be subject to the same regulations, and would have the effect of turning public radio and TV into a free-for-all. Don’t we get enough of that on the commercial airwaves?

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Once the camel’s nose is in the tent, the rest of the camel will surely follow. To change the rules to permit paid political ads on public radio and TV would surely weaken the rules against commercial advertising in general, and pollute this last bastion of civil discourse. In theory, all broadcasters are licensed to serve the public; in practice, your NPR radio station or PBS TV channel may be the last haven for media dedicated to fulfilling that promise.

Larry Miller

Cambridge

The writer is a retired professor of broadcasting in the Boston area, and was a longtime on-air personality.
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