As we predicted in our entry of October 14, the FCC yesterday ruled that the Tonight Show appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is running for reelection as Governor of California, was a bona fide news interview program exempt from equal time obligations. As our October 14 posting set out in detail, previous decisions of the FCC had established that many programs that most people would consider to be entertainment qualified as bona fide news interview programs exempt from equal opportunities. As cited in yesterday’s FCC decision, past cases where this ruling has been made include programs such as Donahue, Sally Jesse Raphael, Jerry Springer, Politically Incorrect, Howard Stern and Entertainment Tonight. As long as the program regularly discusses political or other topical issues, the program content and topics are not controlled by the candidate, and the programming is not presented in a blatantly partisan fashion, a program will be exempt from equal opportunities.
This decision should give comfort to broadcasters who may have been shy about letting candidates on their talk shows for fear of equal opportunities claims. If the program discusses topical issues from time to time, it can be considered an exempt program even if the bulk of its content deals with entertainment or other issues. The FCC is encouraging political speech – in whatever form it may take.