Quick, answer this question: how many candidates are running for president? For extra credit, how many candidates are republicans and how many are democrats?
Do you have the answer? Well, if you said anything but none, you’d be wrong. That’s right, there are no candidates. At this point there are presidential hopefuls, presidential contenders and presidential wanna-be’s. But there won’t be any official candidates until after the nominating conventions later this year.
So why is that important?
Well, it seems a lot of people, have complained to the Federal Communications Commission about something called the Equal Time provision of the Communications Act.
Under what is known as Section 315, if a station offers time to one candidate, it must offer time to all other candidates for the same office. In other words, if there is an election for city dog catcher, and a station offers free time to one candidate, it must make a similar offer to all other candidates for dog catcher. If the station sells time to one presidential candidate, it must make a similar offer to every other candidate for president.
It’s important to note, however, that the Section 315 rules do not apply to newscasts or talk shows.
But at this point there aren’t any candidates, so stations are pretty much free to treat the contenders any way they want. This also means that hopefuls can say anything they want about issues and other politicians without triggering Section 3-15.
Notice also that the rules do not apply to print media. A newspaper can editorialize as much as it wants about this or that candidate, and does not have to make an offer of equal space to the other candidate.
It must also be said that most stations and newspapers are fair about how they cover candidates and other contenders. If a station runs a news story about one candidate, they will probably run a similar story about the other candidate. And newspaper op-ed pages routinely give space to anyone who has a reasonable chance of winning an election.
As we get closer and closer to election day, you can bet the complaints about media bias will increase. But, of course you think the media are biased, but only against your particular candidate.