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Senators propose "free" air time for candidates, paid for by broadcasters

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Oct 18, 2002    

Senators propose “free” air time for candidates, paid for by broadcasters

  • Three senators introduced legislation Oct. 16 that would provide free air time to political candidates, but broadcasters see it as government interference with free speech rights.

Political candidates would get free air time on television and radio stations under legislation introduced Oct. 16 by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). The bill marks another step in the senators’ campaign finance reform efforts, although they acknowledge that the bill will not be considered by Congress before the current session expires.

The Political Campaign Broadcast Activity Improvement Act would require television and radio stations to air at least two hours per week of candidate-based or issue-based programming campaigns.

The bill would allow federal candidates to receive up to $750 million worth of broadcast vouchers for placing political ads on television and radio stations. The funds would come from a spectrum use fee of up to 1 percent of the revenues of all broadcasters. The bill also would include measure to make sure candidates receive the same advertising rates.

The senators said they hope free air time will better inform the public about candidates and issues.

But media representatives worry about the impact of the legislation.

This bill “poses the same problems as it did when it was previously introduced,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. “It has the government dictating forms of editorial content.”

Cochran’s greatest concern with the bill involves its requirement of a certain amount of air time for political campaigns. She worries the bill will “substitute government editorial judgement for that of a free press.”

The sponsors said they hope the measure will encourage “viewers to become more engaged in their government by learning more about the individuals who represent them,” McCain said, according to a Oct. 17 statement by the Alliance for Better Campaigns, an election reform advocacy group.

Paul Taylor, president of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, said the bill would improve the ability of all political candidates to campaign in the next election cycle.

“This legislation would reduce the amount of money in politics by making the public airwaves more accessible for political speech,” Sen. Durbin said, according to the Alliance statement.

The sponsors said they “look forward” to reintroducing the bill when the 108th Congress convenes next year.

(S. 3124) LF

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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