Reasonable Access Laws
The Reasonable Access Law
WHY the FCC licensed Major Radio and Television Stations MUST run the ads of Federal Candidates
To understand WHY the major radio stations must run these Congressional campaign radio ads, – it is necessary to understand the “Reasonable Access Law” and the “Becker vs. FCC” decision in 1996 by the Washington D.C. Circuit Court.
This law is meant to protect freedom of speech for federal candidates (such as congressional candidates) and their supporters — to raise the issues which the candidate and his supporters feel are important. The law requires that FCC (Federal Communications Commission) licensed radio and TV stations must run the ads of Federal Candidates in the day slots, or blocks of time, that the federal candidate specifies. Provided obscenity and profanity are avoided by the federal candidate — the FCC licensed radio station is NOT allowed to censor the campaign ad for content, nor to move it into other day parts (or time blocks) it chooses — it must adhere to the schedule bought by the federal candidate and his campaign. (This last rule was the whole point of the Becker vs. FCC ruling in 1996, in which candidate Becker of Atlanta, Georgia won against the FCC itself and 300 major radio and television stations who came in on the side of the FCC to try and censor Becker’s ads by putting them exclusively between midnight and 5 AM. The D.C. circuit court ruled that the FCC licensed station HAD to run the federal candidate ads IN THE TIME SLOT OF THE CANDIDATE’s CHOOSING. They could not embargo his or her ads to times of the day where there are few listeners, or less listeners, such as between midnight and 5 AM, as the station in Atlanta was trying to do. In other words, this is a solemn legal obligation of an FCC licensed station — which is merely LEASING the PUBLIC airwaves. It is not a merely public service by the station to insure robust and unfettered public debate on the issues of the day — it is the station’s solemn legal obligation.
In other words — if, for instance, a federal candidate buys three one minute radio ads on a drive time show with a local host, and if that candidate buys the time on the last day before the election — then the FCC licensed station cannot alter the content of the radio ad, its management cannot refuse to play the ads, and the station must give the three ads a reasonable spacing throughout the program such as they would extend to any business customer (this reasonably spacing of ads is called “minimal separation” in the media business), and — MOST IMPORTANTLY — the FCC licensed station can absolutely NOT move such federal candidate radio ads to another time block other than the time slot bought by the candidate, even if they have to bump non-political ads off the air for that day. For instance, the station could not move a federal candidate’s ads bought for afternoon drive time (3 PM to 6 PM), to a non-drive time slot such as 9 AM to noon earlier on the same day.
The law is even stronger than that. The law requires, during the last sixty days before the election, that the radio ads be sold to the federal candidate at the lowest rate such time was sold to any business, any issue group, or any individual in the same time slot for that year. Finally, if the FCC licensed station refuses to play the radio ads as paid for and ordered by the candidate and his campaign — the federal candidate can file for ownership of the station’s FCC license.
This is why the FCC licensed television and radio stations must play federal candidate ads. Based on our experience, and the experience of everyone who watches the major media — these “advocates of free speech” definitely and absolutely censor many ads when they are not forced to play such ads by the Reasonable Access law for federal candidates
The above is a brief explanation of this “Reasonable Access” law and the Becker vs. FCC decision which bolstered its application in 1996.