NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Panel Avoids Mandatory Free Broadcast Time For Politicians

December 18, 1998

Last year, the President established an advisory panel known by the unwieldy title of the Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters. Its charge was to recommend what TV broadcasters should do in exchange for their free licenses to use thousands of new channels.

In particular, the committee was to debate whether broadcasters should be forced to offer free broadcast time to political candidates or minimum amounts of educational and public affairs programming. The panel stopped short of that recommendation.

  • Instead, it reportedly will recommend today that free broadcast time be voluntarily provided as part of any overall campaign finance reform law, if Congress passes one.
  • It urges Congress to establish a permanent trust fund for public broadcasting and to set aside some undetermined amount of future channel space for noncommercial educational programs and services -- such as distance learning or Internet access for schools and libraries.
  • It advises that the projects be financed by the auction of space on the analog spectrum that is returned to the government when broadcasters convert to digital channels or by fees imposed on broadcasters that use added spectrum space for money-making channels.
  • The report recommends that broadcasters be encouraged to provide five minutes a night of free broadcast time to candidates in the 30 days before an election.

Because the report is advisory, Congress or the Federal Communications Commission would have to impose any obligations on broadcasters.

Source: Lawrie Mifflin, "Voluntary Political TV Advertising Urged," New York Times, December 18, 1998.


Browse more articles on Government Issues