Every day, on almost every television channel, it seems as if you can find a presidential candidate making an appearance – and it’s not just on the Sunday morning political interview programs. Last week, it was Hillary Clinton on the David Letterman Show (where her husband is scheduled to appear this week). In the last two weeks, both Barack Obama and John McCain have made the pilgrimage to talk with John Stewart on the Daily Show. Mike Huckabee seems to be a fixture on the Colbert Report. And at the end of last week, TNT reportedly stated that, candidacy or not, it would continue to run episodes of Law and Order featuring Fred Thompson. With all of these appearances of candidates on television, one might wonder if the FCC’s Equal Opportunities (a/k/a the "Equal Time") rules FCC have been repealed. In fact, it appears that all of these appearances are within exemptions to, or are otherwise not covered by, the Equal Opportunities Doctrine of the FCC.
That doctrine requires a broadcaster or, in some instances, a cable system, to provide equal opportunities to competing candidates to appear on the air. In the most common situation, if one candidate buys commercial time on a broadcast station, the station must treat other candidates in the same race equally, and allow them to buy equal amounts of time on the station at equivalent rates to those paid by the first candidate. In a candidate is given free time, all his or her opponents are entitled to the same amount of free time, if they request it within seven days of the first candidate’s appearance. However, the statute provides many exemptions, and all of these recent appearances appear to fall within these exemptions.