Three Last Minute Political Issues for Consideration by Broadcasters

David Oxenford - ColorBy: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

We’re down to the last week before the election, but broadcasters can’t let up quite yet, as the last week is almost always the busiest for political advertising. Candidates, PACs and other groups try to get the last word before the voters go to the polls. Here are three issues that broadcasters should be considering in these last days before the election:

  1. Weekend Access. The FCC has said that if a station has, in the year prior to the election, made its employees available to a commercial advertiser for new orders or changes in copy, they need to make employees available for those activities to political candidates. Even if the station completely shuts down on the weekend and no salesman ever signs a deal with an advertiser during a Saturday golf outing and no weekend employee ever agrees to change the copy on a big advertiser’s spots, the station may still need to make employees available during the last weekend before the election to allow candidates to exercise equal opportunity rights, which brings us to number 2.
  2. Practice Inventory Management. In these last days before the election, there will be many demands on the commercial inventory of many stations and stations will need to be careful in managing that inventory. Remember, all candidates have the right to buy equal time to the time bought by opposing candidates in the last 7 days. While candidates cannot sit on their equal opportunity rights until the last minute, equal opportunity buys placed in the first part of next week probably need to be accepted. Plus, you may be getting demands from candidates for new time and requests from PACs and other political advertisers, so be sure that you have practiced wise inventory management so that there is room for all of the spots that you are obligated to run. Be particularly careful about selling a new schedule this coming week to a candidate, as the opposing candidate will need to be able to get his or her equal opportunities before Election Day – even if it means signing contracts and adding spots to the traffic system over the weekend – even if you have never in the last year been open on the weekend for a commercial advertiser.
  3. Be Prepared for Take-Down Demands. In the last days before the election, the ads are no doubt going to get nasty, and some may trigger take-down notices from candidates who are being attacked in the ads. Remember, if the attack ad is run by a candidate’s authorized campaign committee, you can’t censor the ad based on its content. That means you are legally forbidden to pull the ad even if it lies about the opponent. But, ads bought by PACs and other non-candidate groups can be refused based on their content. So you need to carefully evaluate the claims made by the party demanding that the spot be pulled, as if the claims made in the spot are in fact false and defamatory, the station could have liability for continuing to run the non-candidate attack ads after receiving notice demanding that they be taken down. We wrote more about this subject here.

Soon it will all be over and your station will be back to simply dealing with its normal commercial advertisers. But, for the next few days, be prepared for the onslaught of political issues, and have your communications lawyer’s phone number on speed dial!

David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline.  Access information here. (Members only access).

There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your membership.

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