WASHINGTON, DC—The 2020 campaign season is already underway, and candidates for federal, state and local offices are appearing on radio stations across the country. But what obligation does a radio station have to provide equal opportunities to other candidates?

Womble Bond Dickinson telecom attorney John Garziglia frequently advises radio stations on their FCC equal opportunities obligations, and he has written a new article, titled “Understanding the Equal Time Rules”, for Radio Ink.

Garziglia notes that all “uses” of candidate interviews do not necessarily trigger a requirement to provide equal opportunities to other candidates.

“The news types of programming in which a ‘use’ is exempt from equal opportunity obligations are: a bona fide newscast, a bona fide news interview, a bona fide news documentary, and on-the-spot coverage of a bona fide news event. As you can see, the operative words are ‘bona fide,’” Garziglia writes.

Generally, Garziglia said a radio station is okay if a candidate is being interviewed on a regularly scheduled program that normally hosts interviews, provided the interviewer is able to maintain reasonable control of the interview. However, the FCC has flagged programs in which a candidate provided a prerecorded interview in which his staff selected the questions. The FCC also ruled that a one-time interview program with a single candidate (as opposed to a regularly scheduled interview program) violated the equal opportunity rules.

However, he said the subjective nature of some parts of the rule may make stations leery of airing political candidate interviews.

“Even if a candidate’s interview appears to fall on the bona fide interview side of the exemption to equal opportunities, a licensee may choose not to broadcast the interview because it does not wish to be the subject of an FCC complaint arguing that equal opportunities are merited,” Garziglia writes. “In the same way as the now defunct FCC Fairness Doctrine had the effect of muzzling speech, so can the FCC’s equal opportunity rules by raising a concern for unwanted litigation and lawyer fees.”

Click here to read “Understanding The Equal Time Rules” in Radio Ink.

Womble Bond Dickinson attorneys Rebecca Jacobs Goldman and Gregg Skall provided assistance with this article.

John Garziglia represents radio and television broadcasters, offering personalized assistance in all areas of communications and telecommunications law including transactional and contract negotiations for broadcast station mergers and acquisitions, the securing of financing, governmental auctions of new frequencies, license renewals, new stations applications, facility changes, facility upgrades, licensing, and compliance with FCC rules, regulations and policies.