The end of the midterm election last week marked the kick-off of the 2008 presidential campaign.
The race for the White House will feature a cast of candidates who have articulated a wide spectrum of views on issues that may affect the television industry. The next president will likely determine the government’s course on concentration of media ownership, TV marketing to children, indecency and per-channel cable pricing.
The likely Democratic contenders, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have railed against advertising that targets children and have spoken out against greater concentration of media ownership. Republican hopeful Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee has pushed for higher penalties for programming judged obscene, and another possible GOP candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has articulated opposition to further consolidation of media outlet ownership.
Unless there is a shift away from Democratic control of Congress in the 2008 election, the incoming president probably will be greeted by lawmakers who favor more consumer-friendly policies on Capitol Hill. While concentration of media ownership and advertising policy likely won’t be regular topics of presidential hopefuls’ stump speeches, the eventual occupant of the Oval Office will exert influence in the industry through appointments and his bully pulpit.
“Generally media issues don’t rise to the level of intense debate during a campaign,” said Dennis Wharton, executive VP of the National Association of Broadcasters. Because a number of media issues aren’t entirely partisan, the role they play in the presidential campaign may well depend on the interests of the individual candidates.
It’s too early to tell who will represent each party in the 2008 election, but some politicians are already throwing their hats in the ring. Tom Vilsack, the Democratic governor of Iowa, last week said he’d run. Most of the presumed candidates have spoken out on media issues. What follows is a primer on their past positions and how media companies might be affected if one of the current favorites ascends to the White House.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Sen. Clinton has repeatedly discussed media issues during her time on Capitol Hill, focusing many of her comments on how television affects children. It’s a subject she got involved with as first lady.
As a sponsor of the Children and Media Research Advancement Act, she has urged the federal government to sponsor research into how media exposure shapes kids, and she has been clear on what should be done with the research.
“I think a lot of parents don’t understand the damaging effects of constant media exposure, the manipulation of children’s minds by advertisers, and they don’t exercise responsibility or believe they have the tools to do so,” Sen. Clinton said at one Kaiser Foundation event in July.
“Industry needs to step up to the plate and exercise some self-discipline when children are likely to be in the audience,” she told the New America Foundation in May. “That means more family-friendly programming. It means doing something at long last without gratuitous violence. It means protecting younger children from unsuitable ads and promotional materials. And it means broadcasters re-establishing meaningful codes of conduct.”
Despite some urging from consumer groups to take legislative action, she has held to a position urging marketers to voluntarily limit their efforts.
She also supported Senate legislation that would have prevented the Federal Communications Commission from easing some media ownership rules, and in 2003 voted to overturn the FCC’s effort to allow greater concentration of ownership.
An aide to Sen. Clinton didn’t respond to a request for comment
During his 2004 vice-presidential campaign, the former South Carolina senator frequently talked about media-related issues, with direct-to-consumer prescription ads a prime target. Suggesting that drug-company spending on the ads was driving up health care costs, Edwards sponsored legislation that would have required all ads to provide clear and balanced information about a drug’s side effects and benefits, a requirement some ad groups contended would have effectively killed TV as a medium for the ads. They claimed the legislation would have resulted in as much as half of a drug commercial’s airtime being devoted to warnings.
The Real Solutions for America platform produced for Sen. Edwards’s primary campaign suggested he wanted to prohibit drug advertisements that mislead or overpromise.
Sen. Edwards has set up the One America Committee, with a Web site, in anticipation of the 2008 race, but the site makes no prominent mention of media issues.
Sen. Edwards criticized the FCC’s 2003 effort to allow greater media consolidation, calling it in one speech “a grievous mistake [and] a profound threat to diversity and democracy.” The FCC’s easing of ownership rules was eventually overturned, and the agency is reconsidering the matter.
An aide to the senator did not respond to a request for comment on whether Sen. Edwards would continue to press the issue in a presidential campaign.
Sen. John Kerry
As a member of the Commerce Committee, the Massachusetts senator also questioned efforts to allow media companies to own more outlets.
“I think that too much media in the hands of one powerful entity or one individual is a mistake,” Sen. Kerry told C-SPAN in a 2004 interview. “I think it runs counter to the foundation of our country. I think it runs counter to the need for Americans to know that they are getting news and information from multiple sources that are not singularly controlled.”
Sen. Kerry has supported so-called net neutrality proposals, which would prevent Internet service providers from charging content providers more for faster Web connections.
The 2004 presidential candidate has repeatedly questioned whether the FCC and other government agencies are doing enough to protect and support minority media companies. He has urged the government to spend ad money on minority-owned media channels, mentioning the issue in September while addressing the Congressional Black Caucus. He’s advocated protecting minority-owned media should ownership restrictions on outlets be eased.
An aide to Sen. Kerry did not respond to a question about whether the senator would bring the media issues into a presidential campaign effort.
Sen. Barack Obama
In several speeches, the senator has questioned whether the FCC is doing enough to rein in broadcast indecency, and he suggested in one speech last November that the mass media is contributing to an overall coarsening of American culture.
“We need to make it clear that the free use of the public airwaves continues to come with certain obligations … to reflect not the basest elements of American culture but the profound and the proud,” he said in a speech to the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Obligations to seek not just the quick buck or the bottom line but health discussion and debate in the public square … obligations to our children, to our families.”
Sen. Bill Frist
The outgoing Tennessee senator has supported attempts to raise indecency fines and has questioned TV prescription-drug advertising.
“We told broadcasters in a loud, unanimous voice: Clean up your act, or face the consequences,” he said in a press release after the Senate voted to raise fines last May. “When families are watching a Sunday night football game, they shouldn’t have to brace themselves for a televised striptease.”
Describing the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident, where singer Justin Timberlake tore off a piece of the entertainer’s costume to reveal her breast, Sen. Frist said CBS had plumbed a new low in broadcasting, suggesting it wasn’t an isolated incident.
“Network programming is growing increasingly coarse, even during the evening family hour. … Broadcasters should know that if they cross the line, the penalties will be serious.”
Sen. Frist in July endorsed a two-year ban o
n direct-to-consumer drug ads on TV, describing them as offering fantasyland images.” He said those images must be replaced with more useful information “that boldly addresses safety head-on” and include information on risks as well as benefits.
An aide said the issues are part of the senator’s legislative agenda, but declined to predict whether Sen. Frist would run for president “He is focused on … fulfilling his term. He will then move back to Tennessee to decide what is next for him,” she said.
Sen. John McCain
During tenures as chairman and ranking Republican member of the Commerce Committee, the Arizona senator was involved in almost all the body’s decisions relating to media. Sen. McCain and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., co-sponsored the country’s campaign finance law, legislation that has limited some advertising spending.
His committee roles have brought Sen. McCain into conflict with both broadcasters and cable companies.
Sen. McCain joined some fellow Senate Republicans and Democrats in opposing and trying to overturn the FCC’s move in 2003 to allow greater media concentration.
He also fired a shot over the bow of cable companies over the rates they charge.
“The cable industry has risen to new heights in their apparent willingness and ability to gouge the American consumer,” he said in a 2003 press release after the FCC reported a rise in cable rates.
Sen. McCain has been outspoken in favor of requiring cable operators to let customers choose the channels they want to receive on an a la carte basis, a position he has continued to push as a member of the Commerce Committee.
An aide to Sen. McCain didn’t return a request for comment.