No time for hot air

FCC backs off on free broadcasts for candidates

WASHINGTON — Bowing to congressional pressure, FCC chairman Bill Kennard Wednesday temporarily backed off plans to require broadcasters to provide free airtime to political candidates.

But he said he will hold an “inquiry” — that is, public hearings — on the touchy issue, a stance that seemed to find favor even with his critics.

President Clinton has requested that the FCC formulate a plan by which broadcasters would be required to provide free or reduced air time for politicians (Daily Variety, March 12).

Some members of Congress who hold the strings to the FCC purses had threatened to cut the agency’s budget if Kennard started making rules about required free airtime, in part because they say it’s Congress, not the FCC, that has the authority to make those rules. But simply holding hearings is not a problem, congressional sources said Wednesday.

Kennard and his supporters, meantime, are taking the apparent setback in stride.

“It’s not a change in direction,” said FCC spokesperson Liz Rose. “It’s just a slower process.”

Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, said: “I wouldn’t regard this as a caving in or crumbling … It may slow down the plan by a few months, but it leaves him (Kennard) free to adopt rules in a later stage of the proceeding.”

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