Administrative Law-Community Representatives Have Standing To Challenge FCC License Renewal-Office of Communication of United Church of Christ v. FCC

When the owners of a Jackson, Mississippi television station applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a renewal of their broadcast license, representatives of the local Negro community filed a petition with the Commission, requesting it to deny the renewal. Petitioners contended that a renewal of the applicant’s license would not be in the public interest since the station had consistently violated the Commission’s “fairness doctrine” which requires broadcasters to encourage and implement a fair presentation of all sides of any controversial public issue discussed over their facilities. Specifically, petitioners alleged that, in its local programs dealing with racial integration, the licensee had presented only prosegregationist viewpoints. The Commission dismissed the petition without a hearing on the ground that petitioners had no standing to intervene in the licensing proceedings since they had failed to show that they would suffer “some injury of a tangible and substantial nature” from the administrative action in question. The Commission, however, did consider petitioners’ allegations as an “informal objection” to the renewal application, and, as a result, granted a license renewal for only one year, instead of the usual three. Further, it conditioned subsequent renewals on the licensee’s making “demonstrable efforts” to meet the needs of the local Negro community as well as adhering strictly to the standards of the “fairness doctrine.” On appeal to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, held, reversed. Petitioner’s allegations must be considered in an evidentiary hearing on the renewal application because: (I) petitioners had standing to challenge the license renewal since they were responsible representatives of the listening community whose participation in the proceeding was necessary in order to provide an effective means for the Commission appraisal of the licensee’s performance of its duty to operate in the public interest; and (2) the Commission had failed to support adequately its finding that renewal of the license without a hearing would be in the public interest.