Equal Time with Fred Thompson


If you're lucky "“ and home sick, without TiVo "“ you can spend eight hours watching Law & Order reruns on TNT. But there may come a day when a dose of non-L&O programming must be forced into rotation.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Fred Thompson's potential Presidential candidacy could give the network some problems. "Because of federal equal-time provisions, broadcasters that run programs featuring Thompson would open themselves up to requests from other candidates for an equivalent platform. With at least 10 other Republican hopefuls, that could be a daunting prospect."

The thing is, these laws were drawn up before we had hundreds of channels and Dick Wolf. Cable TV is not mentioned, and there's barely a precedent. During the 2003 California recall election, F/X and The Sci Fi Channel chose not to air movies starring candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here are a few Equal Time Rule nuggets, courtesy of Howard Klieman and The Museum of Television and Radio:

  • The equal opportunity requirement dates back to the first major broadcasting law in the United States, the Radio Act of 1927. Legislators were concerned that without mandated equal opportunity for candidates, some broadcasters might try to manipulate elections.
  • In 1959, Congress created four exemptions to the equal opportunity law. Stations who gave time to candidates on regularly scheduled newscasts, news interviews shows, documentaries (assuming the candidate wasn't the primary focus of the documentary), or on-the-spot news events would not have to offer equal time to other candidates for that office.
  • Congress voted during the 1960 presidential campaign to allow Richard Nixon and John Kennedy to engage in a series of debates without the participation of third party candidates.
  • Since a 1971 amendment, a station must offer a candidate the rate it offers its most favored advertiser. Thus, if a station gives a discount to a commercial sponsor because it buys a great deal of air time, the station must offer the same discount to any candidate regardless of how much time he or she purchases.