News orgs call for clearer campaign-finance rules


A CBS-led coalition of news organizations, broadcasters and trade
associations filed a petition Wednesday asking the Federal Election Commission to
amend its rules.

The coalition wants the FEC to make it clear that the sponsorship of a debate
between political candidates by a news organization (or a related trade
association) does not constitute an illegal corporate-campaign contribution in
violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

The petition argued that under the FEC's existing regulations, a news
organization's sponsorship of a debate could be considered an illegal campaign
contribution, punishable as a crime, unless the debate participants have been
selected in accordance with "pre-established objective criteria."

The petitioners argued that the selection of candidates to participate in a
debate is a news judgment for professional journalists that should not and
constitutionally cannot be constrained by so-called pre-established objective

Although the recently adopted Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act excludes from
its prohibitions on corporate-campaign expenditures any "candidate debate or
forum conducted pursuant to regulations adopted by the commission," a change in
the commission's present rules is necessary to realize the intent of that
provision, CBS said.

The petition was filed on behalf of CBS, ABC, A.H. Belo Corp., Cox Communications Inc., Gannett Co. Inc., the National Association of Broadcasters, NBC,
Fox, The New York Times Co., Post-Newsweek Stations, the Radio and Television
News Directors Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and
The Tribune Co.