Sununu Warns Against Free-Airtime 'Monster'


Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) warned broadcasters Tuesday that offering too much free airtime could create a sort of entitlement "monster," with candidates coming to expect the time, including third party-candidates and local as well as national politicians.

Sununu was addressing a gathering of broadcast group executives at an NAB-sponsored fly-in. His advice came in response to a question from an audience member who asked whether his company’s strategy of volunteering as much airtime on its own as possible was an effective one. Sununu suggested that it was, because the candidates would appreciate it and because it could boost the broadcaster’s reputation. But he warned that it could be overdone. "Everything in moderation," he advised.

Sununu hit all the right notes with the group, telling his audience he opposed free airtime for candidates and suggesting that the Congress was unlikely to move on that issue this year (much applause from the crowd).

He was more troubled by the long-range view, however. He warned that the continuing debate on campaign financing and advertising could eventually morph into free airtime. He argued that campaign finance changes already instituted had simply pushed money away from the candidates and parties and towards ever-more shadowy places, like the so-called 527 groups. That, in turn, will push the reformers to regulate the content of messages.

"Don’t think it won’t happen," he said. The next step, he said, will be public financing requirements. And if that doesn’t work, he said, Congress will "force broadcasters to give it away."

He warned broadcasters, in town to meet with various government officials, to continue to lobby actively against that outcome.

He also hit the right note with local stations on indecency, suggesting that, in part, it had been "foisted on you by national content providers."