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By Published on .

Following a call in President Clinton's State of the Union message, Federal Communication Commission Chairman Bill Kennard formally proposed a rulemaking proceeding to force broadcasters to provide free time for political ads.

But advertisers fear the free time will come from commercial inventory, limiting availabilities and pushing up ad rates during elections.


"If it comes from commercial time, prices go up," said Allen Banks, North American media director for Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, New York. "If it comes from non-commercial time, then it comes from programming, adds to the clutter and diminishes the value for everyone. Either way, the advertiser loses."

Broadcasters and Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee Chairman John McCain, (R., Ariz.) challenged Mr. Kennard's Jan. 28 proposal for another reason-that such a move would take time from broadcasters illegally.

Citing the skyrocketing cost of political campaigns, Mr. Kennard said he believes the FCC needs to take action to clearly spell out the public service commitment that broadcasters must meet-a commitment he said includes a responsibility to air TV spots, not just candidates' views, free.

Mr. Kennard said he would prefer Congress act, but that the FCC has the authority to act under existing laws if Congress does not. "The influence of money has distorted the political process," he said. "I want the FCC to be part of the solution."

Mr. Kennard said the main reason he believes the FCC should act is his concern that the cost of advertising is making it all but impossible for someone who is not wealthy to run for office, and that candidates are having to spend an inordinate amount of time fund-raising.


Rupert Murdoch's offer last year to set aside time each night for candidates to talk about specific issues does not work in a day when people are used to seeing entertaining commercials, said Mr. Kennard.

"In this country, candidates are competing against the most creative minds on Madison Avenue to attract eyeballs to get the public's attention. They should have the leeway to design campaign ads that attract voters' attention and, get voters excited and interested in the process," he said.

Mr. Kennard also said marketers' success at negotiating ad rates has badly outdated existing FCC rules and federal laws that require stations to give political candidates their "lowest unit cost" for commercials aired close to an election.

The government agency is getting complaints that candidates aren't being given the lowest ad rates.

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