broadcast station on air employees who run for political office

It seems like about this time as we begin to near the end of the year that broadcasters contemplate their future. And it seems like that brings many to contemplate moving from behind the microphone to being in front of it – by running for public office. Perhaps because next year will likely be a very active one with Congressional elections and elections in many states, I have had a number of calls from broadcasters in the last few weeks asking what they should do with the on-air employee who is contemplating making that move by jumping into politics. We have written about this issue many times before, including coverage of when well-known local or national personalities have contemplated runs for office – see our stories here, here and here. In 2010, we wrote an article that provided a discussion of this issue, which remains valid today, and which I edited and reposted in 2016 here. An updated version of that article is below.

Having an on-air employee who runs for political office – whether it is a federal, state or local office – does give rise for equal opportunities for competing candidates whenever that employee’s recognizable voice or picture appears on the air, even if the personality never mentions his or her candidacy on the air, and even if they appear in what is otherwise an exempt program (e.g. a newscaster who runs for office triggers equal time when he delivers the news even though a candidate’s appearance as a subject of that news program would be exempt). Stations need to take precautions to avoid the potential for owing significant amounts of free time to competing candidates, where those candidates can present any political message – if they request it within 7 days of the personality’s appearance on the air.
Continue Reading What to Do With the On-Air Employee Who Becomes a Candidate for Elective Office?

It’s political season, and somewhere, some on-air broadcast air personality is making the decision that they really want to change careers – and run for political office.  We’ve written about what a broadcaster needs to do when that decision is made by one of their personalities, but I guess not every broadcaster reads this blog, as a story in the Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal from last week shows that there is still some confusion about what the rule provides.  So it is time for a little refresher on the issues that arise when an on-air personality runs for political office. 

We wrote about the issue last year, when a Chicago-area on-air talk show host decided to run for local office.  Then, we noted that the requirement that a station provide equal opportunities to a candidate who is opposing the on-air personality kicks in as soon as you have a legally qualified candidate – one who has filed the necessary paperwork to run for an office. The application of the equal opportunities rule (or “equal time” as some refer to it) is not limited to the 45 days before a primary or the 60 days before a general election (those windows apply only to the application of the lowest unit charges that have to be made available to candidates), and equal opportunites applies to state and local as well as Federal candidates. Once a candidate is qualified, even outside of the “political window”, equal opportunities apply. 
Continue Reading Equal Opportunities Issues that Arise When a Broadcast On-Air Personality Runs for Political Office

As we enter the 2010 election season, questions are beginning to arise about broadcast station on-air employees who decide to run for political office, and what a station needs to do about such employees to avoid issues under the FCC political broadcasting rules.  For instance, in Arizona, talk show host (and former Congressman) JD Hayworth recently left his radio program and announced that he was planning to contest John McCain’s reelection by challenging him in the Republican primary.  On a local level throughout the country, on-air station employees are deciding to throw their hats into the political ring.  And, whether that ring is a Federal office like the one that Mr. Hayworth is seeking, or a state or local elective position, whether it be Governor or member of the Board of Education or Water Commission, an announcer-candidate can mean equal time obligations under Section 315 of the Communications Act and under FCC rules for a broadcast station. 

We wrote about this issue last election cycle,here, and the rules have not changed. Once a candidate becomes "legally qualified" (i.e. he or she has established their right to a place on the ballot by filing the necessary papers), equal opportunities rights are available to the opposing candidates.  What this means is that, if the on-air broadcaster who is running for political office stays on the air, any opposing candidate can come to the station and demand equal opportunities within seven days of the date on which the on-air announcer/candidate was on the air, and the opponent would be entitled to the same amount of time in which they can broadcast a political message, to be run in the same general time period as the station employee/candidate was on the air.  So if your meteorologist decides to run for the city council, and he appears on the 6 o’clock news for 3 minutes each night doing the weather, an opposing city council candidate can get up to 21 minutes of time (3 minutes for each of the last 7 days), and that opposing candidate does not need to read the weather, but can do a full political message.  So what is a station to do when an on-air employee decides to run for office?


Continue Reading Leaving the Air to Run For Office – What to Do With The Broadcaster Who Becomes a Candidate