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Political Broadcasting 101

Political Broadcasting 101

Oct 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Harry Martin

Whether you are in California or Maine, it’s election season again.Here is a brief review of applicable laws and regulations governingaccess to time by political candidates.

  • Right to AccessThe political broadcast rules require stations to provide federalcandidates reasonable access to their facilities. State and localcandidates do not have the same right of access. Indeed, no stationlicensee is required to permit the use of its facilities by any legallyqualified candidate for state or local public office. However, if alicensee permits any such candidate to use its facilities, it mustafford equal opportunities to all other candidates for that office. Andthat candidate may say whatever he wants because the licensee cannotcensor any of a candidate’s broadcast material.
  • Qualifying �Uses.�Certain appearances by a candidate do not count as a use ofbroadcast facilities and do not trigger the equal opportunityrequirement. For example, appearances in a bona fide newscast, newsinterview, news documentary (if the appearance of the candidate isincidental to the presentation of the subject of the documentary), andon-the-spot coverage of bona fide news events do not give rise to equalopportunity obligations.However, if a candidate’s appearance does not fall under any ofthose exceptions, then the appearance may be what the FCC calls a�use,� in which case the door would be opened to all otherlegally qualified candidates who may want equal time. Once the firstuse has occurred, a broadcaster must accommodate other legallyqualified candidates who request time within a week after the firstuse.
  • Record KeepingEvery licensee must keep and permit public inspection of a completerecord of all requests for broadcast time made by or on behalf of acandidate for public office, together with an appropriate notationshowing the disposition made by the licensee of such requests, and thecharges made, if any, if the request is granted. Unlike other parts ofthe public inspection file, the licensee whose main studio is outsideits community of license does not have to honor telephone requests forphotocopies of the political file.
  • Lowest Unit ChargeDuring the 45 days preceding the date of a primary or primary runoffelection and during the 60 days preceding the date of a general orspecial election in which such person is a candidate, a broadcastercannot charge a legally qualified candidate more than the lowest unitcharge of the station for the same class and amount of time for thesame period for any ad related to the candidate’s campaign. Bonus spotsprovided to advertisers must be factored into the calculation of lowestunit rate.
  • Special California IssuesIn even a two- or three-candidate race, these rules can betroublesome. Consider California this year, where at last count, therewere more than 130 announced candidates for governor. By taking onecandidate’s spots, stations will open the door to 129 potential equaltime requests.

In California there is another perplexing twist: as a technicalmatter, the current governor who is the subject of the recall electionis technically not himself a candidate as far as California isconcerned. Does the governor then qualify as a candidate for FCCpurposes? The Commission has taken the position in the past that aperson who is subject to recall is a candidate under the FCC’s rules ifthe candidates to replace him appear on the same ballot as therecall.

Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC.,Arlington, VA. E-mail[email protected].


Dec. 1 is the deadline for filing with the FCC the biennialownership reports, and for the placement of annual EEO reports in thepublic file, for radio stations in the following sates: Alabama,Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota,Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota andVermont.

Dec. 1 also is the deadline for renewal applications for radiostations in Alabama and Georgia.

Prefiling renewal announcements must begin on Dec. 1 for radiostations in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.