Broadcasters Get Beltway Boost
A hearing before the House telecommunications subcommittee brought some welcome relief to the broadcasting business, which sustained a heavy hit when the Senate approved campaign finance reform legislation cracking down on the TV industry.
Saying broadcasters are to blame for the escalating cost of running a campaign, the Senate decided to get tough by proposing to strengthen a federal rule mandating that candidates be given a discount when making media buys.
The rule, as it exists now, doesn't prohibit broadcasters from charging higher rates for primetime slots, or for slots that won't be preempted.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the telecom subcommittee, and Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the full commerce committee, said the rule is fine as is. To impose new restrictions would be unfair.
"It's like getting a Lexus at the price of a Saturn," said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.).
Lower ad rates would do little to curb the cost of modern day political life, said Belo Corp. executive VP for media operations Jack Sander, testifying on behalf of the National Assn. of Broadcasters. Rather, the airwaves would become even more clogged with campaign ads, maybe squeezing out commercial advertisers.
"A legally qualified candidate would be able to buy a non-preemptible spot during a Sunday Redskins game for $15, because it would be the lowest charge for the same time period from the previous year -- $15 compared to $3,500. Outrageous but true," Sander said.
The odd man out, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), lashed out at broadcasters for sitting on valuable digital spectrum, while at the same time asking politicians for relief in other matters.
"You're a good player in a bad industry," Markey said to Sander.
There did appear to be some support among House politicians for a provision requiring broadcasters to disclose who put up the money for political ads.
Disputes between the Senate and House over campaign finance reform will be hammered out in conference.