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All of which sharply raises the question of free time for political oratory. On that subject Frank Stanton of the Columbia Broadcasting System has come up with some provocative thoughts. CBS, he says, is ready and eager to promote a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates and to invite the candidates of the major parties to participate in numerous panel discussions-again at no cost. But that can't be done, Stanton points out, unless the Federal Communications Commission amends section 315 of the FCC Act, which requires a TV or radio station to give equal time to all candidates if it extends free time to one.
In 1952, Stanton reminds us, there were 18 parties and 12 candidates in the presidential race. (Lest you have forgotten or never knew, General MacArthur was supported by three parties-America First, the Christian Nationalists, and the Constitution Party; the Vegetarian Party ran Brig. Gen. Holdridge; the Church of God Bible Party backed Homer Tomlinson the Greenback Party supported one Frederick Proehl; the Prohibition Party gave its all for Stuart Hamblen; the Socialist Labor Party was for Eric Hass; the Progressive Party for Vincent Hallinan-and there were others, too.) It would have made little sense to insist that television grant equal free time to all these nominees to match any time offered Eisenhower and Stevenson.
Surely, however, a series of debates between Eisenhower and Stevenson would have been lively TV fare even if the others were just allowed to sit on the platform.
What Stanton is proposing essentially is that TV be allowed to accept the reality that we live under a two-party system. If the year comes when a third party, through some historic convulsion, really assumes major dimensions, we have no doubt that some flexibility could be achieved. But by clinging to the fetish of free time for everyone, we are in fact denying free time to anyone; with the inequality of financial resources that now exists, we may well be getting "one party" TV before we are through.
Within the framework of Stanton's proposal there might well be some modified clause to assure some time for all minority parties. But no newspaper felt obliged to provide equal space for the views of the Greenback standardbearer or the Vegetarian leader; Stanton has a case when he says TV ought to be allowed to inhabit the real world, too.
Anyway, his proposal warrants real study and debate.
[From the Milwaukee Journal, May 31, 1955]
IMPROVED TV USE IN CAMPAIGNS
The problem of television and its use and misuse in national election campaigns is a big one that requires long and serious study. One phase of it, however, could and should be corrected quickly-before the 1956 campaigns. Frank Stanton, president of the Columbia Broadcasting System, discussed this phase recently.
Under section 315 of the Federal communications act, a network or station which makes time available to one candidate must offer equal time to all others. Stanton proposed this be amended so that leading candidates could participate in panel discussions, forums, or debates without networks or stations having to provide equal time for all minor candidates. He explained that CBS would like, for instance, to make 2 or 3 hours of evening time available free during the 1956 campaign for a "modern day electronic version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates."
"Under section 315 as it now exists such free public service programs would be impracticable," Stanton said. Every minor candidate could demand, and get, equal free time.
In the 1952 campaign, that would have meant 16 other candidates. Parties which offered candidates in one or another of the States included the Progressive, Prohibitionist, Vegetarian, Socialist Labor, Socialist Worker, Constitution, and Christian Nationalists. There was a Poor Man's Party with a presidential candidate who received 4,203 votes, all in New Jersey.
Basically, industry insistence that the opportunity of buying time be extended equally to all candidates is good and should be continued. Allowing networks and stations to limit to major candidates the free, public service type of programs proposed by Stanton seems definitely in the general interest.
Safeguards should be written to provide inclusion of a major third party candidate when and if such appears. And it would probably be wise, for the time being,
to limit the new freedom to presidential candidates. Injustice might be done in congressional, State and municipal elections where serious third party and independent candidates can spring up quickly. They might be seriously handicapped by TV discrimination in favor of major parties.
[From the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, July 5, 1955]
EQUAL TIME IN POLITICAL BROADCASTS
Some things that are wonderful in theory can turn out to be dismal failures in practice. The law on political broadcasting is an example.
The "theory" is contained in section 315 of the Communications Act of 1934. It declares:
"If 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."
In practice, networks and stations have been discouraged from giving any free public service time to political candidates. In the 1952 election, 18 parties had candidates for president. The parties included the Vegetarian, the Church of God, Bible, and the Greenback parties. If the networks had given free time to Candidates Eisenhower and Stevenson, they also might have been required to give free time to every minor candidate-crackpot or otherwise-on the presidential ballot. The law has been carried to such extremes that in 1952 broadcasters found themselves obliged to give free coast-to-coast time to a William Schneider to "answer" Robert A. Taft and General Eisenhower because Schneider had entered two Republican primaries in the race for the GOP nomination. Discussion programs are similarly affected. Some broadcasters decline to invite candidates to discuss or debate issues during campaigns for fear of getting stuck with interminable requests for "equal time."
The result is that candidates who want to use broadcast facilities have to pay for most of their time. The costs of television can be prohibitive-$50,000 to $60,000 for a half hour on a major network. The result of the “equal time" provision is that "ability to pay" becomes the major consideration in use of broadcast facilities. The candidate hard-pressed financially and most in need of help is the one hardest hit by section 315.
Broadcasters would like to provide more public service programs during political campaigns. Dr. Frank Stanton, president of the Columbia Broadcasting System, talks about inviting the leading presidential candidates to appear on the network's panel discussion programs. He also has in mind making available 2 or 3 hours of the best evening television time during the 1956 campaign for "a modern-day electronic version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates would appear on the viewer's screen debating the great issues of the day."
But this is impossible without revision of the Communications Act. So Dr. Stanton has proposed to add the following to section 315:
"Appearance by a legally qualified candidate on any news, news interview, panel discussion, debate or similar type program where the format and production of the program and the participants thereon are determined by the broadcasting station, or by the network in the case of a network program, shall not be deemed to be use of a broadcasting station within the meaning of this subsection." Some such change as this is needed. It should be possible for stations and networks to perform greater public service in the broadcasting and televising of political talks and interviews.
[From the New York Times, May 26, 1955]
RADIO, TV AND 1956-AN ACCOUNT OF THE NEW DIFFICULTIES FACING BROADCASTERS IN THE CAMPAIGN
By James Reston, Special to The New York Times.
WASHINGTON, May 25-In about a year from now there will be approximately 50 million television sets in this country haranguing the populace with political oratory in what will, of course, be "the most important, the most decisive, and the most historic presidential election in American history."
The "man who ***" speeches will all be approximately the same, and the issues, of course, will be peace and prosperity, but the noise will be worse, and the ground rules for television campaigning will be even more out of date than they were in 1952.
They will, that is, if something is not done about them fairly soon.
Fortunately, some people here and elsewhere are beginning to think about the problem, and the TV and radio broadcasters, in town this week for a few days' institutional soul-searching, are asking the politicians some pertinent questions. "What is the attitude of the Federal Communications Commission," the broadcasters asked yesterday, "on the suggestion currently being studied by Congress that radio and television stations be required to give political candidates 'free' air time?"
Dr. Frank Stanton, the president of the Columbia Broadcasting System, in a communication from New York, was even more specific. Why not amend the Federal Communications Act, he proposed, so that CBS could put the two major presidential candidates on panel shows on a series of Lincoln-Douglas type of debates without having to give the same privilege to the vegetarian, prohibition, and all other such minor candidates?
Even though debaters of the quality of Messrs. Lincoln and Douglas vanished with the 19th century, these are good questions. The sad part about it is that nobody here seems to be able to agree how to deal with the problem.
The main part of the present Communications Act that seems to be causing most of the trouble is the following:
"If 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 ✶ ✶ ✶"
The practical result of this regulation is that TV and radio stations seldom give any candidate for office free time because they would then be obliged to give all other candidates for the same office equal time. Thus, while many stations would no doubt have been willing to give time to General Eisenhower and Adlai E. Stevenson in the last election, they could not do so without having to give the same amount of time to the other "legally qualified candidates" representing minor parties or sects.
EDITORIAL JUDGMENT BARRED
In short, the TV and radio stations cannot exercise their editorial judgment to "cover" the speeches they think important and ignore the others, as the newspapers do. They are are obliged under the fee rules to treat the candidates of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the American Vegetarian Party, the Greenback Party, and the Prohibition Party precisely as they treat the candidates of the Republican and Democratic Parties.
If one gets free time all must get free time, and while this is eminently fail in principle, the result in practice has been of course that the stations have allowed the problem to be settled on the basis of ability to pay.
Even in 1952, a half-hour single TV network broadcast could cost more than $30,000. That was when there were only 17 million TV sets in the country. Already the rates are higher and, by a year from next November, when there are expected to be more than 50 million sets, the bill will be much higher.
There is general agreement here that the ability-to-pay principle is not just in a democracy, and that the injustice is likely to increase in direct ratio to the rise in TV costs, but the problem cannot be solved merely by changing the rules to give the Democrats and Republicans free time and blocking out all others.
For while this might not produce injustice in national Presidential elections, it could easily do so in State, congressional and municipal elections. For example, Fiorella La Guardia's successful Fusion Party campaign in New York City some years ago would have been handicapped by discrimination in favor of the major parties.
This is only one of the many new problems to rise with the popularity and power of Nationwide TV.
Another is the increasing use of television by the executive branch of the Government. For example, President Eisenhower now puts on his weekly news conference before the TV cameras. Could he increase the number of news conferences during the campaign and thus be on a free TV national network 2 or 3 times a week while the Democrats had no such opportunity of equal time?
These are just a sample of the problems now facing and dividing the politicians and the Federal Communications Commission, and it is clear that the whole question will have to be carefully studied before long if an objective appraisal is to be conducted at all.
There are several ways in which this could be done by Congress, but perhaps the best way would be to have a Presidential commission appointed, with representatives of the public, the broadcasting companies, the Federal Communications Commission, and the major parties.
Such a commission would still have time to explore the problem and come up with recommendations before the emotions of the campaign itself make all objective appraisal impossible.
[From the New York Times, May 29, 1955]
OUTMODED BROADCAST LAW-"EQUAL TIME" PROVISION SEEN AS BARRIER TO GOOD COVERAGE
(By Jack Gould)
In speaking before the convention of the Nation's broadcasters last week, President Eisenhower stressed television's role in helping keep the American public informed. In particular he urged the radio and TV men to insure that broadcasting be as free as other media.
If this goal is to be attained, however, the broadcasters cannot do it by themselves; the help of Congress is needed. In one of the most vital and crucial branches of news-politics-television is hobbled by a regulation that, if applied to newspapers, soon would make a hollow jest of a free press.
The regulation is known technically as section 315 of the Federal Communications Act and popularly as the equal-time provision. It involves the attractive if naive notion that journalistic impartiality can be legislated on a mathematical basis.
In practice the effect of section 315 is less a guarantee of fairness than a formidable barrier to adequate broadcasting of political opinion and controversy. The provision thwarts the conscientious broadcaster who wants to do a rounded job. It is a wonderful alibi for the broadcaster who doesn't.
LANGUAGE OF LAW
Section 315 stipulates that if a broadcaster "permits 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."
Under section 315 a candidate is defined as any person who announces his candidacy and "meets the qualifications prescribed by the applicable laws to hold the office for which he is a candidate."
The broadcaster's plight can be appreciated when it is realized that in 1952 there were not only General Eisenhower and Adlai E. Stevenson running for office. In addition, there were presidential candidates of the American Party, the American Rally, the Christian Nationalist Party, Church of God Bible Party, Constitution Party, Greenback Party, Poor Man's Party, Progressive Party, Prohibition Party, Republimerian Party, Socialist Labor Party, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party, Spiritual Party, Vegeterian Party, and Washington Peace Party.
Under the law, is a broadcaster required to give all these candidates equal time? Strictly speaking, the answer would seem "Yes." In 1952 a man named William R. Schneider filed in two Republican primaries and then asked the Federal Communications Commission for equal time with General Eisenhower and the late Senator Robert A. Taft. The FCC directed that he receive such time and Mr. Schneider was heard from coast to coast.
In short, from a legal standpoint the broadcaster cannot focus his news attention merely on the candidates, whatever their number may be, in whom there is genuine public interest; he is legally subject to granting equal time to many unknowns.
To avoid this contingency most broadcasters simply do not give free time to any of the candidates once the formal campaign has started. The same policy seems certain to be extended to primary contests which ultimately could mean virtually no meaningful political coverage that the politicians did not choose to
finance. Manifestly, this is an unhealthy state of affairs both for TV as a journalistic medium and for the candidate who is not well off.
The ramifications of section 315 extend to many news and discussion programs. During a campaign it might seem fair for a Republican and a Democratic Senator, both running for reelection, to debate a national issue. But under section 315 their opponents back home theoretically could ask for equal time to give their views. Rather than run this risk, discussion shows often pass up politics during a political campaign.
Even on spot news a strict mathematical interpretation of equal time can mean no news. During the last New York State conventions a television station wanted to cover the balloting contest, if one developed, between Averell arriman and Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. Conceivably, this news event could run an hour or so on TV. The Republicans, with Senator Irving M. Ives unopposed for the gubernatorial nomination, had not ballot contest.
If the Democrats were to be on TV, however, the Republicans wanted to be on just as long, even if it meant filling in with speeches. But the Democrats said if the Republicans made speeches they wanted time to reply. The upshot of this seesawing nonsense was that the Democratic contest wasn't covered, even though it was real news. The TV public was not informed.
Section 315 imposes an impossible journalistic burden. News cannot be judged on a legalistic and statistical basis without leading to utter chaos. If a newspaper used the full text of the Republican and Democratic candidates, should it be compelled by law to run the full text of a dozen other candidates? Should a Democratic story be ignored because the Republicans weren't making news? Yet these absurd situations do prevail in TV.
The evil of trying to legislate fairness already is apparent. Senator Warren G. Magnuson, chairman of the powerful Senate Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over broadcasting matters suggested that perhaps broadcasters should be required to donate some fixed amount of time to qualified candidates. This is not unlike saying a newspaper should contribute its columns to the politicians with no voice in how those columns were used.
The remedy is not more legislation but less. Section 315 in substance contradicts another provision of the Communications Act, which prohibits Government meddling in program content. Political news is vital program content. It is time that section 315 were reexamined with a view to allowing the broadcaster to make his own journalistic decisions. If he is not deemed qualified to do so, then it can only be asked by what standard did the Federal Communications Commission give him a license in the first place.
[From the New York Herald Tribune, June 8, 1955]
TV, CAMPAIGN AND VOTERS
(By Roscoe Drummond)
WASHINGTON.-Vice President Richard Nixon has reached some original and arresting conclusions concerning the use of television in political campaigns. He is convinced that a good deal of fresh thinking is needed if TV is to continue to be an effective instrument of campaigning, and as a beginning he offers the fol-lowing judgments:
That the set speech of a presidential nominee, showing him on the television screen haranguing a big rally or snugly reading his teleprompter in the studio, is on the way out.
That such performance won't any longer attract good audiences or hold them. That only a major presidential pronouncement or some very special circumstance, such as the buildup which preceded his explanation of the Nixon fund in the 1952 campaign, will produce and sustain the interest of an adequate TV audience in future campaigns.
That political telecasts will have to be far better produced than in the past and that there will have to be some form of audience participation-perhaps an adaptation of Secretary Dulles' recent foreign-policy report to the President, plus running comment and questions in the presence of several members of the Cabinet. Mr. Nixon is inclined to think that in future campaigns the nominees will have to take on unrehearsed, off-the-cuff questioning if the candidates are to get the voters, in any large numbers, to stop, look, and listen.