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US Appeals Court Upholds Pirate Radio License Ban

A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld as constitutional a law that barred a pirate broadcaster from ever obtaining a license for a low-power FM radio station or from being involved with a station.

The court, by a 7-1 vote, ruled the law and the government regulations implementing it do not violate free-speech rights under the First Amendment. The full court reversed a ruling last year by a three-judge panel of the appeals court that struck down the law.

Acting on a mandate from Congress, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules in 2001 that banned anyone who had been a pirate broadcaster or currently was broadcasting illegally from obtaining a license for a new low-power station.

No exceptions to the prohibition were made in the law.

Greg Ruggiero, a former pirate broadcaster in New York City and elsewhere, challenged the FCC’s rules because he was approached to be on the board of directors of a South Carolina low power station.

The court, in a decision by Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg, ruled against Ruggiero and in favor of the FCC.

He wrote that the law, “is a targeted response to the problem of pirate broadcasting, affects only those who violated the license requirement and does so utterly without regard to the content of, or any view expressed by, their unlicensed broadcasts.”

Ginsburg concluded there was a reasonable fit between the ban and the “government’s substantial interests in deterring unlicensed broadcasting and further violations of its regulations.”

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