The Barack Obama Channel – a surprising concept to find on your satellite television dial. Yet there appears to in fact be such a channel, according to a columnist at Politico, who found that the Dish Network is dedicating a whole channel to Obama commercials run back to back. Has Dish owner Echostar decided to stake out a partisan position in this hotly contested election? No, instead, it appears that the Obama campaign has decided to purchase time on that channel to run their ads. Leaving aside the question of whether this is a wise expenditure of campaign funds, the question is raised – is this legal?
The answer appears that it is legal, as long as the McCain campaign is given equal opportunities to buy their own channel at a similar price. The Direct Broadcast Satellite (“DBS”) Companies – Dish and DIRECTV – are subject to the FCC’s political broadcasting rules in the same manner as broadcasters (rules more strict than those that apply to cable companies, as reasonable access requirements are imposed on DBS requiring that they sell reasonable amounts of commercial time to Federal candidates who may request it). Thus, the equal time or equal opportunities rule would apply to DBS. Because of the equal opportunity obligations, the mere fact that only one candidate has decided to avail themselves of the opportunity to buy the time does not make it problematic. Dish just needs to maintain enough channel capacity to create a McCain channel should that campaign decide, at some point between now and the election, to spend its resources to buy a channel of its own. The Obama Channel is another in a seemingly never-ending stream of weird political broadcasting issues that have come up in this election season. Our coverage of some of the other issues that have come up this year can be found here, and our Political Broadcasting Guide, setting out many of the rules of the road for this election season, is available here.