Political Broadcasting: Candidates for Public Office. In recognition of the vital role that broadcasting plays in the electoral process, the Communications Act and the Commission’s rules impose specific obligations on broadcasters regarding political advertising
- Reasonable Access. Section 312(a)(7) of the Communications Act and Section 73.1943 of the Commission’s rules require commercial broadcast stations to provide reasonable access to candidates for federal elective office. This means that commercial television and radio stations must allow legally qualified federal candidates to purchase reasonable amounts of broadcast time throughout their campaigns in all dayparts (i.e., in all parts of the broadcast day), including television prime time and radio drive time. The right bestowed upon federal candidates to purchase broadcast time is not absolute. Stations may take into account certain factors in determining whether a request to purchase broadcast time is reasonable. Reasonable access does not extend to state and local candidates, and stations have discretion whether to accept or refuse requests for the purchase of broadcast time by candidates running in state and local elections.
- Equal Opportunities. Section 315(a) of the Communications Act and Section 73.1941 of the Commission’s rules require that if a station allows a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use its facilities (i.e., make a positive identifiable appearance on the air for at least four seconds), it must give equal opportunities to all other candidates for that office to also use the station. Equal opportunities apply to all commercial and non-commercial stations, as well as all legally qualified candidates for public office (federal, state, and local) throughout their campaigns. Stations are prohibited from censoring ads that are paid for or sponsored by legally qualified candidates and their authorized organizations. As a consequence, stations are protected from liability if these ads contain defamatory material. Certain news-related programs are exempt from equal opportunities. Therefore, an appearance by a legally qualified candidate on a bona fide newscast, regularly scheduled bona fide news interview program, certain documentaries, and on–the–spot coverage of a bona fide news event (including debates and political conventions) does not trigger equal opportunities for opposing candidates.
- Lowest Unit Charge.Section 315(b) of the Communications Act and Section 73.1942 of the Commission’s rules require that during the 45-days preceding a primary or primary runoff election and during the 60-days preceding a general or special election, stations cannot charge legally qualified candidates or their authorized organizations more than the lowest unit charge for the same class, same amount of time, and same daypart as they charge their most favored commercial customers. Therefore, during these narrow windows, candidates are entitled to the benefit of all volume discounts even if they purchase a single advertisement. At all other times during political campaigns (i.e., outside of the windows), stations can charge candidates no more than they charge commercial advertisers for comparable use of their facilities.
- Online Political Files. Section 315(e) of the Communications Act and Section 73.1943 of the Commission’s rules require all stations to maintain online political files. Information must be uploaded to https://publicfiles.fcc.gov as soon as possible when a station receives a request for the purchase of airtime that is made by – or on behalf of – any legally qualified candidate (federal, state or local) or is made by an issue advertiser and the ad communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance. In addition, records of all free time must be placed in the political file. The information that must be uploaded about requests for the purchase of broadcast time include whether the request is accepted or rejected, the rate charged, the date/time the ad ran or will run, the class of time purchased, the name of the candidate, the office being sought, the issues that are referenced, the name of the person or entity purchasing the time, and a list of executives of the sponsoring entity.
- Sponsorship Identification. Section 317 of the Communications Act and Section 73.1212 of the Commission’s rules require stations to ensure that political ads have appropriate sponsorship identification. Therefore, all ads must identify the entity that is paying for or sponsoring the advertisement.