Stations hit up for free ads

Mar 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is putting a new twist on the free-time concept, with a proposal that would require broadcasters to pay spectrum fees to underwrite candidates’ TV ads.
Under legislation the lawmaker is currently drafting, qualified candidates and political parties would get vouchers for advertising time on TV stations, with stations picking up the tab for the ads through a new series of “spectrum usage fees.”
In an interview last week, Nancy Ives, the lawmaker’s spokeswoman, said the legislation also would require broadcasters to devote time to political debates, interviews and other candidate-centered discourse during the final days of an election contest.
“It’s a way of ensuring that on the most important medium for political communications we have, citizens are exposed to something more than a nightly blizzard of ads,” she said.
Ms. Ives said the requirement for political coverage was similar to an existing Federal Communications Commission rule that obliges stations to provide a minimum of three hours a week of educational programming for children.
Sen. McCain, a longtime free-time proponent, is expected to provide additional details about his proposal March 15 in Washington.
Broadcasters have easily derailed free-time initiatives in the past, including one promoted by Sen. McCain.
But Ms. Ives said the lawmaker hopes that the political landscape will change in the wake of last week’s release of an Alliance for Better Campaigns report showing that political advertisers spent from $771 million to $1 billion on broadcast TV ads in 2000-that’s five times as much as was spent in 1980.
“Local television stations gouged candidates, parties and issue groups in the closing months of the 2000 campaign, jacking up their ad rates in response to the unprecedented demand for political airtime,” the report said.
But Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said broadcasters abided by FCC regulations during the 2000 elections. He also made clear that the industry will fight Sen. McCain’s free-time rules.
“Our posture will not change: We oppose government-mandated free airtime,” Mr. Wharton said.