Trump, Media, and Equal Time

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The Presidential election cycle has long held Federal Laws and codes to regulate air time of official candidates,  the Equal Time Act, allowing fair and equal coverage time from any broadcasting stations, whether it be radio or television. These quite archaic codes, implemented in the early 20th century, are never discussed in the modern political platform, as they’ve become vastly outdated with the advent of cable networks and internet communications. These codes, as defined in the Communications act of 1934, code 315(b), create the requirement for every political candidate to get an equal time allotment of coverage on broadcast stations if another candidate is given time.

What makes these codes of equal time for candidates on broadcast so defunct and out of date are the exclusions of the codes and how they’ve been applied to modern news networks. The full code and exclusions are as follows:

(a)Equal opportunities requirement; censorship prohibition; allowance of station use; news appearances exception; public interest; public issues discussion opportunitiesIf any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provisions of this section. No obligation is imposed under this subsection upon any licensee to allow the use of its station by any such candidate. Appearance by a legally qualified candidate on any—

(1)

bona fide newscast,
(2)

bona fide news interview,
(3)

bona fide news documentary (if the appearance of the candidate is incidental to the presentation of the subject or subjects covered by the news documentary), or
(4)

on-the-spot coverage of bona fide news events (including but not limited to political conventions and activities incidental thereto),
shall not be deemed to be use of a broadcasting station within the meaning of this subsection. Nothing in the foregoing sentence shall be construed as relieving broadcasters, in connection with the presentation of newscasts, news interviews, news documentaries, and on-the-spot coverage of news events, from the obligation imposed upon them under this chapter to operate in the public interest and to afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance.
(b)Charges

(1)In generalThe charges made for the use of any broadcasting station by any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office in connection with his campaign for nomination for election, or election, to such office shall not exceed—

(A)

subject to paragraph (2), during the forty-five days preceding the date of a primary or primary runoff election and during the sixty days preceding the date of a general or special election in which such person is a candidate, the lowest unit charge of the station for the same class and amount of time for the same period; and
(B)

at any other time, the charges made for comparable use of such station by other users thereof.
(2)Content of broadcasts

(A)In general

In the case of a candidate for Federal office, such candidate shall not be entitled to receive the rate under paragraph (1)(A) for the use of any broadcasting station unless the candidate provides written certification to the broadcast station that the candidate (and any authorized committee of the candidate) shall not make any direct reference to another candidate for the same office, in any broadcast using the rights and conditions of access under this chapter, unless such reference meets the requirements of subparagraph (C) or (D).

(B)Limitation on charges

If a candidate for Federal office (or any authorized committee of such candidate) makes a reference described in subparagraph (A) in any broadcast that does not meet the requirements of subparagraph (C) or (D), such candidate shall not be entitled to receive the rate under paragraph (1)(A) for such broadcast or any other broadcast during any portion of the 45-day and 60-day periods described in paragraph (1)(A), that occur on or after the date of such broadcast, for election to such office.

(C)Television broadcastsA candidate meets the requirements of this subparagraph if, in the case of a television broadcast, at the end of such broadcast there appears simultaneously, for a period no less than 4 seconds—

(i)

a clearly identifiable photographic or similar image of the candidate; and
(ii)

a clearly readable printed statement, identifying the candidate and stating that the candidate has approved the broadcast and that the candidate’s authorized committee paid for the broadcast.
(D)Radio broadcasts

A candidate meets the requirements of this subparagraph if, in the case of a radio broadcast, the broadcast includes a personal audio statement by the candidate that identifies the candidate, the office the candidate is seeking, and indicates that the candidate has approved the broadcast.

(E)Certification

Certifications under this section shall be provided and certified as accurate by the candidate (or any authorized committee of the candidate) at the time of purchase.

(F)Definitions

For purposes of this paragraph, the terms “authorized committee” and “Federal office” have the meanings given such terms by section 30101 of title 52.

(c)DefinitionsFor purposes of this section—

(1)

the term “broadcasting station” includes a community antenna television system; and
(2)

the terms “licensee” and “station licensee” when used with respect to a community antenna television system mean the operator of such system.
(d)Rules and regulations

The Commission shall prescribe appropriate rules and regulations to carry out the provisions of this section.

(e)Political record

(1)In generalA licensee shall maintain, and make available for public inspection, a complete record of a request to purchase broadcast time that—

(A)

is made by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office; or
(B)communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance, including—

(i)

a legally qualified candidate;
(ii)

any election to Federal office; or
(iii)

a national legislative issue of public importance.
(2)Contents of recordA record maintained under paragraph (1) shall contain information regarding—

(A)

whether the request to purchase broadcast time is accepted or rejected by the licensee;
(B)

the rate charged for the broadcast time;
(C)

the date and time on which the communication is aired;
(D)

the class of time that is purchased;
(E)

the name of the candidate to which the communication refers and the office to which the candidate is seeking election, the election to which the communication refers, or the issue to which the communication refers (as applicable);
(F)

in the case of a request made by, or on behalf of, a candidate, the name of the candidate, the authorized committee of the candidate, and the treasurer of such committee; and
(G)in the case of any other request, the name of the person purchasing the time, the name, address, and phone number of a contact person for such person, and a list of the chief executive officers or members of the executive committee or of the board of directors of such person.
The problem with these archaic rules of equal coverage is that, in a 2011 ruling on the matter, cable television 24 hour news networks were all essentially exempted from this code, allowing them the exact right to manipulate political candidacy through coverage – which was exactly the reason this code was put in place.
So, how much does this affect the campaigning of candidates during election cycles? Well, considering the growing audience of such 24 hour news networks,  this loophole in equal time allows 38% of Americans to get unequal coverage of news events and campaign issues. In the 2016 election in particular, 24% of Americans tune into these biased news stations  in order to get their election news. And, how much extra time do these stations give to Donald Trump, versus other candidates? A lot. A vast majority, in fact. The numbers have been shown to reflect as much as 10 times the coverage of other GOP candidates, and a lion’s share of coverage versus the Democratic party.
And these, as well as social media and other online news sources, are 100% exempted from the Equal Time Act. Now, monitoring social media sites would be an impossible challenge, as well as monitoring unofficial news syndicates. However, for broadcasting networks – which is still the top supplier of news events to the public, modifications can be, and certainly should be, applied. And they should be, when a candidate is running who brags of self-funding his campaign, and claiming to need no money from “outsiders,” while receiving free press and campaigning from such news networks. I mean, how equal is that for such news media outlets to campaign for a Presidential candidate?
I feel it’s time for these news media outlets to step up their ethics and morals. They need to stop campaigning for a candidate, and stop chasing ratings. If they can’t or won’t, then perhaps better regulations need to be put in place to keep the Equal Time act from becoming completely defunct. Only one thing can be amended within this current election cycle, however, and that is the biased news coverage of one particular candidate, which has given him more publicity, support, and airtime than any other candidate not only in this race, but likely in the history of Presidential campaigns. If these  are truly credible news agencies, they need to step up and start acting the part.
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