Once upon a time there was something called "educational television," which harnessed the technological marvel of a new medium to provide children and adults with edifying programming uncorrupted by advertising. Today, public radio and television continue to devote more attention to educational programs than commercial broadcasters do, but they also seek to entertain viewers of all ages with features — such as British sitcoms, quiz shows, animal adventures and rock 'n' roll retrospectives — that duplicate those on commercial stations. And the programming is punctuated by corporate "sponsorship statements" that are advertisements by another name.
Given these changes, a federal appeals court decision last week allowing public stations to air political and campaign advertisements is not that dramatic a development. Last week the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 vote, struck down on 1st Amendment grounds a congressional ban on such advertising, while upholding a prohibition on ads by profit-making companies.