The Federal Communications Commission has ruled that Pappas Telecasting Cos. must make another $400,000-plus of airtime available to political candidates in some key California races.
Pappas had concluded that it could give ad time to some candidates and only had to provide time to opposing candidates at the lowest unit charge, saying it had vetted the move with its attorney's and the FCC.
The FCC said it had not approved that interpretation of election law, and late Friday, the Media Bureau held that Pappas' gift of ad time was free time that had to be extended in kind to opposing candidates.
The downside for those candidates is that there is only about a day left to use the time.
The FCC took pains to make the point that it was a narrow decision. "We emphasize that our ruling herein is limited to the specific circumstances of this complainant’s request for equal opportunities."
Here is what the FCC said:
"Based upon the facts that have been presented to us, we find that the broadcast time that has been made available to [a] candidate...was furnished free of charge by the referenced stations. In this regard, we note that the letter dated October 13, 2004, from Pappas Telecasting Companies to the Fresno County Republican Central Committee documenting the airtime gift indicated that the time was being given by “Harry J. Pappas and my affiliated entities” (emphasis added).
"The named entities include the licensees of the stations on which Mr. Gardner appeared. Moreover, nothing in the record before us indicates that the stations on which Mr. Gardner appeared were paid for his use. The Commission has ruled that when a candidate is furnished time at no cost, competing candidates are entitled to receive the same amount of free time in comparable time periods....
"Thus, under these circumstances, we find that the complainant is entitled to equal opportunities on the same free basis as her opponent. We emphasize that our ruling herein is limited to the specific circumstances of this complainant’s request for equal opportunities."