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giving free time to major party candidates, since, if they did, they automatically incurred the statutory obligation to give equal time to the 16 minor party candidates. Under the provisions of H. R. 6810, however, free time on one of the types of programs enumerated could be given to major party candidates without having any duty to provide equal time to the many minor party candidates.
The Commission firmly believes that it is in the public interest for broadcast stations to provide the widest possible coverage of election campaigns. However, we also consider it of great importance that broadest coverage of elections be free from discrimination between candidates and between political parties. We believe the present proposal might result in more free time being granted to the major party presidential candidates. However, it would also permit discrimination between candidates and parties to an extent not possible under the existing law.
If H. R. 6810 were enacted into law, the relatively clear and precise standards now present in section 315' (a) would be entirely inapplicable to the types of programs enumerated in the bill both with respect to minor party candidates and also the candidates of the major parties. Instead of having to comply with the existing equal time requirements, broadcasters would have only to meet a vague standard of overall "fairness" in handling the exempt types of programs-a fairness imposed upon licensees by their general responsibility to operate their sations in the public interest.
This overall standard of "fairness" would have to be enforced by the Commission. But the question inevitably arises: what sort of treatment, short of equal treatment is nevertheless "fair"? Is it fair for a station or network to give time to candidate X to debate a spokesman for candidate Y, but refuse to permit candidate Y to speak for himself? And how prominent or powerful must a third party be before fairness will require that its candidates be provided with some free time?
These are merely examples of the countless variety of questions which the Commission would be called upon to decide should this bill become law. And let me assure you there will be an avalanche of such questions, too, for our experience has shown that numerous disputes arise even under the relatively precise terms of the existing law. We further believe that such questions will be difficult, and perhaps even impossible, to decide.
Another factor which must be considered is time. It does a candidate no good to be told the day after an election that he should have been given an opportunity to speak on a station. Under the existing statute, the Commission can require a station to comply immediately with the equal-time requirement. However, it must be recognized that "fairness" has been held to be an aspect of a station's overall programing. This overall programing is considered by the Commission at the time when a station's license comes up for renewal. Under such circumstances, it seems doubtful that the "fairness" standard would be of much use in the practical context of an election campaign.
Then there is the matter of censorship. Complaints in that regard would also arise, since the types of programs enumerated in the proposal would be exempt from all of the provisions of section 315 (a), including the existing bar against censorship.
In this connection, it should be noted that since broadcasters would not be barred from censoring under the proposed law, they would have no protection against liability for libel or slander committed on the exempted programs. This would be true even if a bill such as H. R. 4814, which is expressly designed to protect them from such liability, were enacted into law.
As I have noted, the purpose of the proposed law is ostensibly to permit stations to give more free time to the candidates of the major parties in presidential elections. However, the bill makes no distinction between paid time and free time, although paid time would not appear to constitute any particular problem to stations, since few, if any, minor parties have the funds necessary to purchase more than a very small amount of radio or television time.
Similarly, the bill is not limited to presidential elections. It would be applicable to all elections, primary or general, for all offices, whether national, State, or local.
The Commission, therefore, believes that any limited benefits which might result from this legislation woud be more than outweighed by the dangers of discrimination to candidates and by the administrative difficulties in enforcement.
Thank you, gentlemen.
Mr. HARRIS. Mr. Chairman, that completes your statement on this particular bill?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. Yes, sir.
Mr. WILLIAMS. Mr. Chairman, how would this change the existing law? How does the existing law treat this situation ?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. The existing law merely provides that equal time_equal opportunity-will be given for candidates and there is no power of censorship.
Now, under this law, the station could decide, or the network, could decide that they are going to use people on news and news commentaries, news documentary, and they could be the judges.
And they do not have to give equal time to other candidates. In other words, they would be the people sitting there making the decisions.
Mr. WILLIAMS. Mr. Chairman, let me congratulate you on the very clear and concise statement you made and tell you that on the basis of your statement I think I'm pretty well convinced.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. Thank you, sir.
Mr. DOLLIVER. Mr. Chairman, I take it from your statement that you feel that the present statute in the field covered by your statement has worked relatively well.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. It has, sir, over the years. It is needless to say in this vital field, which is very sensitive, there have been a lot of questions asked during election campaigns, but it has worked remarkably well since 1927, sir.
Mr. DOLLIVER. In other words, you are like Hamlet, you would "rather bear the ills we have than to fly to others that we know not of".
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I believe so.
Mr. Flynt. Mr. Chairman, does your statement, as far as you know, express the majority opinion and the position of the other members of the Commission?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. It does, sir. I say it does, sir.
Mr. Flynt. So far as you know there is no minority or dissenting position taken by any member of the Commission?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. So far as I know, there is no minority or dissenting position taken by any member of the Commission.
Mr. FLYNT. Mr. Chairman, I would like to join my colleagues, Mr. Harris, Mr. Williams, and other members of this committee, in congratulating you for the precision and the clarity with which you have presented the position of the Federal Communications Commission to this committee.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. Thank you, sir.
I will have to make one correction, Mr. Chairman. The general counsel just called my attention to the fact that Commissioner Doerfer does not completely agree with this statement. I am sorry.
Mr. HARRIS. Mr. Beamer.
Mr. HARRIS. I do want to say that I am glad to have the views expressed by the Commission on this problem. But, I note that you do recognize there is problem under existing procedure and that problem is with reference to this question of equal time for all candidates.
In addition to the statement that you made a moment ago regarding the many minority candidates for a national party, is it not true, Mr. Chairman, that most every television station, and many radio stations, have these weekly programs called forums, or by various and sundry names, like the American Forum of the Air, Congress Answers, Across the Aisle et cetera, in which people who are in the political field discuss these public questions?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. That is true, sir. And some of them are very fine, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HARRIS. Meet the Press is one.
Mr. HARRIS. And someone has called my attention to The Forum and Town Meeting of the Air.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. Yes, sir.
Mr. HARRIS. And, under present procedures it is a fact that when a political campaign is underway, the people who participate in presenting these programs will be prevented from appearing without leaving the station liable to the equal time provisions and therefore having to give that time to their opponents.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. That is correct.
Mr. HARRIS. In other words, these public service programs which have been developed over a period of a few years now and have, I think, become of greater and greater interest to the American public since the last campaign 2 years ago, will virtually be taken off the air until after the campaign is over.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I could not answer that.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I say I do not know that that is true. I do not know whether they will have to be taken off or not. I suppose it would depend on the circumstances, Mr. Chairman, as to when or whether they will have to take them off. I do not know. I can conceive how they might have to.
Mr. HARRIS. I will repeat the question. Under the law which you have said was clear and concise--and that is true-you have these programs in which Members of Congress or members of one of the major parties appear and discuss these public issues from the standpoint of a Member of Congress—whether Democrat or Republicanor from the standpoint of the administration or from the standpoint of the party opposed to the administration, and the stations cannot continue those programs without being liable to provide equal time to the various and sundry candidates of the opponents of that political party.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I think that is right. That is true. I think that is right. They would have to give them equal time.
Mr. WILLIAMS. Will you yield?
Mr. WILLIAMS. Do you know of any lawsuits that have ever arisen from that type program or any such judgments having been rendered against radio stations? Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. No, sir; I do not.
Mr. HARRIS. Do you know of any radio station that has ever refused to give equal time under such conditions when there was a demand made?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I will tell you, Mr. Chairman, I know there is a lot of discussion because of it, but I do not know of any judgments ever having been rendered against any of them. There were a lot of accusations and a lot of them were accused of not giving equal time. Let me put it that way. But, I do not know of any judgments ever having been rendered against any of them.
Mr. HARRIS. In other words, the question has never gone far enough during a campaign to make a test case out of!
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. Not to my knowledge. There are always accusations during the campaign, of all descriptions, as you know. I mean, agains radio stations for discrimination.
Mr. HARRIS. But, is it a fact that many of these stations on their own volition voluntarily take these programs off during the campaign?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I do not know that. I would think it would be true.
Mr. HARRIS. I can tell you from personal experience that they do.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. Well, you would know better than I would on that.
Mr. FLYNT. Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Flynt. Mr. Chairman, has it been your observation that the producers and the directors of these programs to which we have just recently referred, lean over backward to present both sides of most issues ?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. Well, those I have listened to, do. I cannot answer about every one of them.
Mr. Flynt. From your observation?
Mr. WILLIAMS. Do you think that that would hold true in connection with Drew Pearson's program, which I believe is a sponsored program?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I never listen to his program.
Mr. WILLIAMS. Mr. Chairman, on that you are to be congratulated. I suppose in view of that statement, you are not qualified to answer the question.
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. No sir; I am not qualified.
Mr. HALE. Mr. McConnaughey, many Members of Congress have news broadcasts, and I think most of the Members try very hard when they have a news broadcast, to keep it as a news broadcast.
Now, all of us have the experience that about 3 months before a primary election, we get kicked off the air, because the stations feel that they have to, under the present law, they have to give our opponents an equal opportunity to make such a broadcast.
Now, do you think that is in accordance with the public interest?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. Yes, I think it is. I think it is probably in the public interest, because I am a great believer in equal opportunity, Congressman.
I know it is a fact that you are a Member of Congress and you give a news broadcast, and it is very fine. But I believe in a campaign year we have pretty nearly got to give people equal time. That is just my personal opinion.
Mr. HARRIS. Mr. Chairman, in the sense that we speak of candidates receiving a great deal of benefit from the publicity in the programs—from such programs as we have where public issues are discussed—do you feel
that that program is for the benefit of the candidate or for the benefit of the public, in providing information on that particular issue?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I believe, sir, that it is designed to be, fundamentally, for the information and for the benefit of the public, but it inures to the benefit of the candidate, needless to say. I think it is for the benefit of the public basically and fundamentally. I think that is the intention of the program.
Mr. HARRIS. Do you feel that these programs and the issues discussed on programs like Meet the Press are for the information and general benefit of the public?
Mr. McCONNAUGHEY. I do, basically; yes. I feel that they are in the interest of the public. I feel so, basically. Some of them I wonder about. Mr. HARRIS. Yes, I appreciate that. I do, too.
Mr. HARRIS. I have been on two of them recently, and I wondered about that myself.