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A Solution for TV in Politics

In response to:

The Elections: A Modest Proposal from the February 9, 2012 issue

To the Editors:

The modest proposal by Max Frankel [NYR, February 9] has a precedent.

In the early 1970s, when the Federal Communications Commission was much more entangled than now in the production of news on television stations, it suggested that editorials on local stations were a Good Thing. Several stations embarked on presenting editorials, most of them condemning traffic jams.

The FCC also suggested that stations might take what was then called “issue advertising,” advocacy ads that were generally not accepted. Stations wanted to comply to keep the commissioners (and Senator Pastore) happy but had to face a strongly enforced equal-time provision that would have meant giving free air time to opponents on any issue. The provision of free advertising time is not the main end of owning a station.

Faced with the problem, NBC, then owned by the RCA corporation, convened a meeting under the vice-chairman, David Adams, a very witty man. I was in nominal charge of news on the five owned stations. We came up with a solution similar to Mr. Frankel’s: we would charge double rates for issue advertising and offer free time to opponents.

What if there were more than one opponent on any issue? one of the lawyers asked. “We will burn that bridge when we come to it,” Mr. Adams replied.

Editorials lasted for a few more years on some stations. There were no issue ads.

Richard C. Wald
Professor
Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
Former President, NBC News
New York City

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