Five Free Air Time Facts . . . And One Proposal

June 11, 2002

1. MOST AMERICANS SUPPORT FREE AIR TIME

Q. As you may know, there have been proposals in recent years to require broadcasters to provide free televison air time before elections for the candidates to discuss the issues. Would you favor or oppose such a proposal?

Support for free air time pie chart.

Poll conducted by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, May 2002 (www.people-press.org).

In 2001, the National Issues Forum held a series of community forums in 44 states to discuss the problem of money in politics. Among participants aged 18 or over, free air time was supported by 72 percent - making it the most popular of all proposals.

Require TV & radio to give free air time to candidates [72%]
Forbid lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists [71%]
Impose strict contribution limits on citizens and special interests [70%]
Make it easier for voters to recall elected officials [56%]
Let candidates raise unlimited amounts, but enforce disclosure [45%]
Lift all restrictions on campaign fundraising [36%]
Percentage of adults favoring reform bar chart.
 

Percentage of adults favoring reform. See nifi.org.

2. FREE AIR TIME IS THE MOST WIDELY-USED CAMPAIGN FINANCE REGULATION IN THE WORLD

Countries with free air time: Countries without
free air time:
Argentina Finland Paraguay  
Australia France Peru Ecuador
Bahamas Germany Poland Honduras
Barbados Ghana Portugal Malaysia
Belgium Greece Russia Taiwan
Bolivia Guatemala Senegal Tanzania
Botswana India South Africa Trinidad & Tobago
Brazil Israel South Korea United States
Canada Italy Spain  
Chile Lebanon Sweden  
Colombia Malta Switzerland  
Costa Rica Mexico Turkey  
Czech Republic The Netherlands Ukraine  
Denmark New Zealand United Kingdom  
Dominican Republic Nicaragua Uruguay  
El Salvador Norway Venezuala  
Fiji Islands Panama Zimbabwe  
 

A 2001 survey of campaign finance laws in 60 countries by the International IDEA Political Finance Project found free air time was more prevalent than disclosure regulation, bans on corporate contributions, spending limits, contribution limits, or public financing. See www.idea.int.

3. THE COST OF AIR TIME IS THE BIGGEST REASON THAT CAMPAIGNS HAVE BECOME SO EXPENSIVE

Television income from campaign ads.Shrinking soundbite.

Television stations took in an estimated $1 billion from political ad sales in 2000, quadruple their take from the 1980 campaign (all figures inflation-adjusted). Meantime, shrinking political coverage on the network news reduced the length of the average candidate soundbite to less than 8 seconds in 2000. For more information, see www.cmpa.com.

4. MOST AMERICANS DON’T REALIZE THAT THE PUBLIC OWNS THE AIRWAVES

Q. Now I'd like to ask you a few questions about the nation’s airwaves, which broadcasters use to transmit television and radio signals. Do you happen to know if television and radio stations own the airwaves, or are they owned by the public?

Public perception of who owns the airwaves.

Poll conducted by Pew Research for the People and the Press, May 2002. See www.people-press.org.

5. AMERICANS MISTAKENLY BELIEVE THAT BROADCASTERS PAY LICENSE FEES

Q. Television and radio stations are required to obtain licenses from the federal government to broadcast over the airwaves. Do you think television and radio stations pay the government each year for these licenses, or do the stations get them for free?

Public knowledge about broadcast licenses.

Poll conducted by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, May 2002. See www.people-press.org.

A Free Air Time Proposal


SENATORS JOHN MCCAIN AND RUSSELL FEINGOLD WILL INTRODUCE A FREE AIR TIME BILL THAT HAS TWO PARTS:

1. Require all television and radio stations to air at least two hours a week (one of which would be in or near prime time) of candidate issue discussion in the month before an election. The stations would choose the formats they preferred – debates, interviews, town hall meetings, etc.

2. Provide qualifying candidates and parties with vouchers to run a limited number of free ads on television and radio. The vouchers would be financed by a small spectrum usage fee on the broadcast industry.