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COMMUNICATIONS ACT AMENDMENTS
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 1956
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to adjournment, at 10:15 a. m., in room 1435, New House Office Building, Hon. Oren Harris (chairman of the subcommittee), presiding.
Mr. HARRIS. The committee will come to order.
I should like to announce now that if any of the witnesses at these hearings desire to revise their statements, either statements that they have made or filed, they should notify the clerk of the committee very promptly. Otherwise your remarks will be printed as we have them in the record.
We are very glad to have Mr. Richard S. Salant, vice president of Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., with us this morning.
Mr. Salant, I might say that if we have inconvenienced you by prolonging your stay here, we are very sorry. STATEMENT OF RICHARD S. SALANT, VICE PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA
BROADCASTING SYSTEM, INC., NEW YORK, N. Y. Mr. SALANT. Not at all. It has been a pleasure.
Mr. HARRIS. We have been pleased, however, to have had you with us during these hearings and we are glad to have you make your statement today in support of the program which was submitted by your company in H. R. 6810. And, if you have any comments about any other proposals that we have been considering here we will be glad to have them, too.
Mr. SALANT. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HARRIS. I think for the record, if you will identify yourself and give us your address, it will be well.
Mr. SALANT. My name is Richard S. Salant, and my office is at 485 Madison Avenue, New York City. I am vice president of the Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. I am appearing today to record the Columbia Broadcasting System's support of H. R. 6810 which the chairman of this subcommittee has introduced at our request.
H. R. 6810 proposes to amend, in a manner which I shall specify in a moment, section 315 (a) of the Communications Act. Section 315 (a) provides that if a broadcasting station permits a "legally qualified candidate for any public office” to use that station, it shall afford equal opportunities to all other legally qualified candidates for the same
office. Section 315 (a), it should be noted, does not require any station to make time available to any candidate; it provides only that if a station does make time available to a candidate, either on a free or on a paid basis, it must do the same, on the same basis, for all other candidates for the same office.
Let me make an insertion at this point-just to keep the record straight-about the full reach of section 315 (a), about which, I believe, some misunderstanding and confusion arose last Tuesday. Section 315 (a), according to the FCC's own written interpretations, applies to any broadcasting appearance by any person who is a candidate for office. For example, if this were next October, Mr. Chairman, and you appeared on Meet the Press, or Face the Nation, let's say, to answer questions about section 316 (a), anyone running against you would have to be given equal time—and not just to discuss section 315 (a). Or if a President of the United States is renominated, and appears on radio and television on a report to the Nation, or a nonpolitical discussion of foreign affairs, every other candidate for the Presidency would have to be given equal opportunities. The FCC, it seems to us, has specifically so ruled-see section III, questions and answers 4, 5, and 7 of FCC Public Notice 54–1155, which the chairman submitted for the record last Tuesday.
On the other hand, section 315 (a) does not apply except to candidates. It does not apply to spokesmen for candidates who are not themselves candidates. It does not apply to any discussion of controversial issues by noncandidates or in periods other than nomination or election campaigns. Thus section 315 (a) does not apply to a discussion of, say, the Dixon-Yates issues, or the Taft-Hartley Actexcept if they are discussed by persons while they are actually candidates for public office. In that sense section 315 (a) is very limited. For most of the year, therefore, and for most of the people who use broadcasting facilities, section 315 (a) has no application, and the general standards of fairness govern.
And I think it will be conceded that, although there may be some disagreement in some specific episodes on which emotions may temporarily run very high, broadcasters have in general established a pretty good track record for fairness and balance even where they are in no way governed by section 315 (a). Nor has the Commission ever indicated that it has experienced such great administrative difficulties in determining these questions of fairness that it had to add to its staff or appropriations or needed an amendment to the law-to extend section 315 (a) to all discussions of public issues.
The only change in section 315 (a) which is proposed by H. R. 6810 is that its provisions be made inapplicable to— any news, news interview, news documentary, panel discussion, debate, or similar type program where the format and production of the program and the participants therein are determined by the broadcasting station, or by the network in the case of a network program ***. In other words, as far as set campaign speeches or political rallies are concerned, section 315 (a) remains just as it is, with no change. Then if a station or network makes its facilities available free for a speech by one party's candidate for office, it must do exactly the same for every other party's candidate for that office. But if, instead of a set appearance controlled by the candidate, the use of facilities is essentially in connection with the station's or network's exercise of its
news coverage function, produced under its own supervision and control and not the candidate's, then the broadcaster may exercise some discretion and, depending on the circumstances, need not necessarily do exactly the same for every other candidate for the same office.
Note that H. R. 6810 will not permit, and is not intended to permit, favoritism in granting free or paid time among candidates. Rather, its only purpose is to permit broadcasters, in the exercise of their news and journalistic functions, greater opportunity to inform the American public.
The fact is and I believe that this is almost universally concededthat while section 315 (a) is rooted in the soundest principles of fair play, it nevertheless has an inherent and fatal weakness. Put bluntly, section 315 (a) stifles and suppresses public information and knowledge; its consequence is to inhibit radio and television from fulfilling to the fullest potential their roles of informing the electorate. H. R. 6810 is designed only to reach these defects by providing an effective remedy while at the same time preserving the basic principles which we believe the Congress sought to achieve in enacting section 315 (a).
Over the years of operation under section 315 (a), we at CBS have become increasingly concerned with, and increasingly aware of, its suppressive effects. Broadcasting, and particularly in recent years television broadcasting, has come to play an increasingly important role in keeping the American people informed of the facts and issues which the people themselves ultimately determine in the voting booth. For in recent years, there has unquestionably grown up a new and vital form of journalism-electronic journalism. More and more, the American people have turned to television for firsthand knowledge of the candidates-of what the candidates say and how the candidates look when they say what they have to say.
Thus, television has provided an unprecedented opportunity to the American people—an opportunity which has never before been available to them on so vast and immediate a scale. The people can see and hear the candidates directly; they can make up their own minds on the basis of firsthand direct information and impression.
There can, we believe, be no quarrel with the general proposition, therefore, that television and radio have given a new vitality to American democratic processes. They have permitted a more direct participation by American citizens in our democratic processes to a greater extent than has ever been possible before.
In 1858 the most famous series of American political debates took place between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Republicans and Democratic candidates for the Senate from Illinois. Only some 75,000 people saw and heard Lincoln and Douglas engage in these historical debates. Today, television could make it possible for some 115 million people simultaneously to see and hear the presidential candidates debate; radio makes it possible for some 140 million people simultaneously to hear these debates.
But the fact which concerns us so deeply and which led to our proposing H. R. 6810 is that if such debates could be arranged between the Republican and Democratic candidates next fall, section 315 (a) would, as a practical matter, bar us from broadcasting them. It is this sort of public disservice which H. R. 6810 would remedy. For fair as section 315 (a) may seem on its face, its practical result is to drop an iron curtain between voters and candidates.
This is so because whatever the voter may think and whatever may be the practical political fact, for broadcasters there is no such thing as a two-party, system. For example, in 1952 there were 18 parties with presidential candidates who qualified in one or more States. As a consequence, if we could have arranged debates between General Eisenhower and Governor Stevenson in 1952, we would have been required to give the same amount of time to each of the other 16 parties with presidential candidates.
We cannot believe that any law which makes impossible so extremely dramatic and useful a method of informing the public and of contributing to the vitality of our democratic processes should remain on the books.
Preventing such debates is only one of the unfortunate consequences of section 315 (a). Section 315o (a) also tends to dilute broadcasters efforts most effectively to present significant campaign issues. It tends to reduce broadcasters to third-class membership in the free press by precluding the electronic journalists from exercising the kind of news judgment which all other members of the press are constitutionally guaranteed. Let me illustrate how section 315 (a) has had these undesirable results of precluding broadcasters from achieving the full potentiality of their roles in electronic journalism and thus depriving the public from all the information to which it is entitled.
For purposes of section 315 (a), a candidate for a public office is defined as any person who has publicly announced that he is a candidate for nomination or election and who meets the qualifications prescribed by the applicable laws to hold the office for which he is a candidate. It is enough that the candidate be eligible to be voted for by a writein—and a number of States permit write-in candidates. Whether his campaign is merely for nomination or is for election, he need only be a “bona fide” candidate—which has been interpreted by the FCC to mean not that there need be the remotest chance that he be nominated or elected, but only that the candidate would, if nominated, accept the nomination or would, if elected, accept the office.
In 1952, we learned the hard way of the sweep of these provisions. There was a gentleman named William R. Schneider, a Missouri citi
Prior to the period of presidential nominations in 1952, Mr. Schneider had made a number of requests to CBS to grant him to expound his views on the air. He insisted that both Senator Taft and General Eisenhower were leftwing and only he represented true republicanism. We felt that there was not sufficint public interest in his views and that he was not sufficiently well known to warrant giving him time.
But Mr. Schneider learned what more and more persistent and perspicacious students of section 315 (a) are beginning to learn. He qualified himself under section 315 (a) simply by announcing that he was a candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. He filed in the New Hampshire and Oregon primaries and thus in the opinion of the FCC qualified as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. After he anounced his candidacy, and filed in these two primaries, he renewed his demand for time on CBS facilities, this time making his claim under section 315 (a). He pointed out that on a number of program series which we had carried preceding the conventions and dealing with the candidates for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations we had broad