Kinder, gentler politics

WRAL-TV sets standards for its free political time

WRAL-TV Raleigh, N.C.-an early provider of free airtime for political candidates-has put conditions on candidates' participation.

Although the rules requiring stations to provide airtime for replies to personal attacks have been scrapped-the FCC suspended them and the court subsequently threw them out altogether-the station still wants no personal attacks on its air.

"We require that candidates do not resort to personal attacks and do not talk about their opponents," said John Harris, WRAL-TV former news director and current special-projects director.

The spots will be aired on Capitol Broadcasting's WRAL-TV and WRAZ(TV) Raleigh newscasts and on WJZY(TV) and WFVT(TV), both Charlotte.

"Candidates have been invited to state their positions on certain issues," said Capitol Broadcasting President and CEO Jim Goodmon. "The most important [thing] is that they do not discuss their opposition. This is not about their opponent. If you want to call your opponent a crook, buy the commercial time. We've always emphasized political coverage in our newscast. But we're concerned about the amount of money in the system, about campaign financing and about negative advertising. And most races are covered like sporting events, horse-race coverage.

"I am not in favor of giving candidates free commercials," continued Goodmon, who was a member of the Gore Commission that recommended stations provide free political airtime as part of their public-service commitment in exchange for digital spectrum. "What I'm trying to do is provide free time for discussion of issues," with the station proposing the particular issues to be addressed.

"When I testified before the Gore commission," said Paul Taylor, head of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, "Jim mentioned that he would like this prohibition on attacking. As much as I hate to disagree even slightly with Jim Goodmon-because we like what they're doing in covering politics-criticizing is part of the political process."

In St. Louis, viewers wanted that face-to-face confrontation. PBS station KETC(TV) had decided not to run a (Missouri) gubernatorial debate hosted by Kansas City, Mo.'s KCPT-TV, but after dozens of phone calls-some raising free-speech concerns or at least asking to make their own decisions regarding the debate's value-ketc changed its mind.


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