“Candidates & Issues” Provides Forum For Political Discourse

“Candidates & Issues” Provides Forum For Political Discourse

Campaign reform and spending have been at the heart of many a debate this political season, and Capitol Broadcasting Company has stepped yet again to give back to its community. Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has no ruling on the issue, CBC

has created “Candidates & Issues,” another forum for political candidates to get their views across to voters and to give voters a chance to hear about the issues by making airtime available to major North Carolina candidates.

WRAL-TV has produced two-minute spots for candidates in the North Carolina races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. WRAL initially launched the concept of non-commercial political airtime as a test phase in the N.C. gubernatorial primaries, issue spots ran for 30 days, and has now expanded the model for the fall election. For the November election, WRAL will run a total of 90 issue spots, including 50 for governor and 20 each for lieutenant governor and attorney general. The two-minute segments began airing in early October.

All of WRAL’s broadcasting subsidiaries are supporting the effort. WRAL-TV runs the spots during its noon, 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts during the week, and during the evening broadcasts on the weekends. WILM-TV, CBC’s CBS affiliate in Wilmington, simulcasts the WRAL news and, therefore, runs the spots as well. WRAZ, CBC’s FOX50, runs the late evening message in its daily 10 p.m. news. FOX50 runs two other messages during times comparable to WRAL’s other newscasts, as does WJZY, CBC’s

UPN affiliate in Charlotte, who runs the three daily messages in comparable time-slots since it does not produce news of its own. MIX 101.5, CBC’s radio station, runs the slots on their airways as well. Video and text transcriptions of each of the segments are available on WRAL OnLine, in addition to other information about the candidates and regular political coverage.

The candidates speak directly into the camera about issues that WRAL selects and one topic of their own choosing. There is only one rule: “We require that candidates do not resort to personal attacks and do not talk about their opponents,” explains WRAL Director of Special Projects John Harris. As News & Observer staff writer Rob Christensen wrote for the October 3 issue of the newspaper, “North Carolina political candidates began showing up on television this week talking about the issues, and not slinging any mud – thanks to Capitol Broadcasting Co.’s renewed experiment in providing free air time for political discourse.”

CBC President & CEO Jim Goodmon explains, “Candidates have been invited to state their positions on certain issues. The most important [thing] is that they do not discuss their opposition. This is not about their opponent. If you want to call your opponent a crook, buy the commercial time. We’ve always emphasized political coverage in our newscast. But we’re concerned about the amount of money in the system, about campaign financing and about negative advertising. And most races are covered like sporting event, horse-race coverage.”

Candidates can still purchase airtime for ads. As Harris explains, “Our ‘Candidates & Issues’ effort is NOT a replacement for campaign coverage–we’re still doing a huge amount and will always do that. Our effort is designed to make sure viewers hear candidates focusing on issues during the campaign–an ‘antidote’ so to speak for all the negative, attack advertisements that you typically see.” Goodmon concurs, “I am not in favor of giving candidates free commercials. What I’m trying to do is provide free time for discussion of issues.”

The idea was born of Goodmon’s stint on the Gore Commission. The Commission worked to make suggestions on what obligations broadcasters had in exchange for their share of the digital spectrum and recommended that stations devote 5 minutes a day in the month before elections to “candidate centered discourse.”

Much debate has gone on about what exactly broadcasters owe the public. The Alliance for Better Campaigns launched www.greedytv.org on Sept 14th to identify stations in the top 75 markets that are making a lot of money off political ads but not giving much back in the way of free air time or campaign coverage.

The site also points out stations that having been pro-active in committing airtime to candidate debate and issues. WRAL is on the Good Guys list on the website. There’s even a segment of the site dedicated to asking people to thank stations such as WRAL for their efforts.

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