YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


CBS-Owned Stations to Air Candidate-Oriented Pieces


CBS said Thursday that its 15 network-owned news stations will run a minimum of five minutes per night of candidate-oriented news coverage, becoming the first major network to accept a voluntary federal plan designed to educate voters.

The coverage, starting Monday and continuing through the election, will highlight local, state or presidential campaigns in issue-related features, panel discussions and other segments of "candidate-centered discourse," the network said. The 15 network stations--plus two stations owned by CBS parent company Viacom--cover major markets such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

"The quality of our electoral process is determined by our ability as citizens to learn about the candidates and to see the key issues that face our communities and our nation put forth for public consideration and discussion," said Leslie Moonves, president of CBS Television, who co-chaired the federal commission that developed the standard in 1998 but who hadn't committed to it until now.

Campaign reform advocates for years have urged that candidates be allowed free access to television broadcasts as a way to educate voters and reduce their reliance on expensive advertising.

Broadcasters have fought legislation requiring them to offer free air time to office seekers, saying it would violate their free speech rights. And in the past, Moonves has expressed reluctance to commit to a standard in the absence of other campaign reforms, such as a ban on so-called soft money donations.

But CBS' move, which network executives cast as evidence that broadcasters can make improvements without strict regulation, comes as federal lawmakers are considering tighter controls on the marketing of film, television programming and music deemed violent or sexually explicit.

A panel convened by the White House recommended two years ago that television stations commit to broadcasting five minutes of candidate-centered discourse each night for the 30 nights preceding the election.

Reformers, including former CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, have been promoting the federal panel's recommended standard because they say broadcasters have reduced their news coverage of politics in recent years while raking in a fortune from candidates who will pay for exposure in the form of campaign advertising.

Candidates have been given 26% less time to speak in their own words on network nightly newscasts this year than in 1988, according to a report released Thursday by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan research organization.

Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, said CBS should be applauded, "but if CBS can do it, why can't others? ABC, NBC and Fox should stop treating democracy as if it were a cash cow and start opening the airwaves to something better than attack ads and sound bites."

NBC executives are planning a similar commitment for their network-owned stations. ABC isn't considering such a plan. Fox officials didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Los Angeles Times Articles