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Minor Candidates Can Be Excluded

May 18, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Public broadcast stations can exclude candidates not deemed ``newsworthy″ from debates sponsored by those stations, the Supreme Court ruled today.

Voting 6-3 in an Arkansas case, the court said the nation’s state-owned stations need not invite all ballot-qualified fringe candidates to participate in their debates. State employees can exclude the candidates without violating their free-speech rights, the court ruled.

Government-run stations do not run afoul of the Constitution’s First Amendment by exercising ``viewpoint-neutral exercise of journalistic discretion,″ Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court.

The ruling could have a wide impact even though it directly affects only government-owned _ not privately owned _ broadcast stations. About two-thirds of the nation’s noncommercial, educational stations are licensed to state and local governments or their agencies.

The decision reversed a federal appeals court ruling that said editors of the five-station Arkansas Educational Television Network violated Ralph Forbes’ free-speech rights by not inviting him to a 1992 debate of congressional candidates.

Forbes, a former American Nazi Party member who now calls himself a Christian supremacist, was an independent candidate who got about 2.5 percent of the votes cast. Only Democrats and Republicans were invited to the televised, pre-election debate of candidates in the district in which Forbes was running.

He later sued, seeking monetary damages. Today’s ruling kills his lawsuit.

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