In the last few weeks, I’ve received several calls from broadcasters about on-air employees who have decided to run for local political office, and the equal time obligations that these decisions can create. Initially, it is important to remember that equal opportunities apply to state and local candidates, as well as Federal candidates. And the rules apply as soon as the candidate is legally qualified, even if the spot airs outside the "political windows" used for lowest unit rate purposes (45 days before a primary and 60 days before the general election). For more information about how the rules apply, see our Political Broadcasting Guide. In one very recent example of the application of these rules, a situation in Columbia, Missouri has been reported in local newspaper stories concerning a radio station morning show host who decided to run for the local elective hospital board. To avoid having to give equal time to the host’s political opponents, the station decided to take the employee off the air. This was but one option open to the station, as set forth in the article, quoting the head of the Missouri Broadcasters Association, who accurately set out several other choices that the station could have taken.
These choices for the station faced with an on-air host who runs for office include:
- Obtain waivers from the opponents of the station employee allowing the employee to continue to do his job, perhaps with conditions such as forbidding any discussions of the political race.
- Allow the candidate to continue to broadcast in exchange for a negotiated amount of air time for the opponents
- Provide equal time to the opposing candidates equal to the amount of time that the host’s voice was heard on the air (if the opponents request it within 7 days of the host being on the air)
- Take the host off the air during the election
Other situations have also arisen concerning non-employees, running for office, who may work for another local station, for ad agencies, or for advertisers, but whose voice or picture appears on spots that run on a station.