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FCC Rejects Angelides’ Bid for Airtime

Oct 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission late Thursday night rejected California gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides’ bid to require NBC’s California stations to provide him nearly 16 minutes of airtime to counter Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Oct. 17 appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

The FCC’s Media Bureau said the “Tonight” show appearance qualified for a “bona fide” news interview exemption from FCC rules that guarantee political candidates equal opportunity for appearances, citing recent interpretations that the exemption extends beyond traditional news programming.

“The program is regularly scheduled, its producers control all aspects of the program, and the producers assert that decisions as to format, content and participants are based on the producers’ independent news judgment as to the participant’s newsworthiness and not motivated by partisan purposes,” the FCC said in its decision. “The fact that many interviews on the program concern entertainment is irrelevant.”

Mr. Angelides’ campaign had complained that Schwarzenegger’s appearance on the “Tonight” show was actually a political appearance and that their candidate should be entitled to 15 minutes and 41 seconds of airtime, if not on “Tonight,” at least on NBC’s California TV stations. The Angelides campaign noted that Mr. Schwarzenegger first announced he was running for governor on the show and that Mr. Leno, a friend of the governor, was “master of ceremonies” at Mr. Schwarzenegger’s 2003 victory party.

“Leno’s promotion and support of Schwarzenegger’s political career” raises a serious question as to whether the decision to have Schwarzenegger as a guest on the show was made in good faith and based on newsworthiness, the Angelides campaign said.

The FCC’s decision said the Angelides campaign’s assertion “is based on little more than speculation” and noted that it began taking a broader view of the “bona fide” news exemption in 1984, when it ruled interviews on “Donahue” were exempt. Similar decisions have since been made concerning interviews on “Sally Jessy Raphael,” “The Jerry Springer Show,” “Politically Incorrect” and “The Howard Stern Show.”

“With respect to the Campaign’s argument that Schwarzenegger is not newsworthy … our role is not to second-guess broadcasters … but to decide if the broadcasters were reasonable in determining that the segments fit within the news interview exemption,” the FCC decision read. “Based on the record before us, we cannot say that the producers’ judgment that the news interview segments fit within the news interview exemption was unreasonable.”

The Angelides campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.