Brother, can you spare some time?

TV stations give candidates air time

Some broadcasters have solved the problem of how to get candidates to discuss the issues. They’re giving them free air time.

By Robin Hughes, editor

Author bio information is from the time of article submission and may not be current.

Source: FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics, vol. 2, no. 8 (November/December 1990), p. 6.

This case was produced for FineLine, a publication of Billy Goat Strut Publishing, 600 East Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Reprinted with the permission of Billy Goat Strut Publishing. This case may be reproduced for classroom and research purposes. Publication of this case in electronic or printed form requires written permission from the publisher and Indiana University. An exception is granted for use in readers designed for specific academic courses.


A few of the candidates were suspicious when KTIV-TV in Sioux City, Iowa, first contacted them to offer two minutes of free air time. What’s the catch? Where’s the hidden cost?

But that reaction changed to “Wow! This is great,” said KTIV program director Dave Madsen.

KTIV-TV offered two minutes at the end of newscasts to twenty-one legally-qualified candidates in this fall’s elections. The only stipulations: Candidates couldn’t fill the time with existing commercials and the time had to be used to discuss the issues.

“The broadcast industry has been accused of waging war with 30-second spots,” said Bill Turner, KTIV-TV vice president and general manager.

“We wanted to give the candidates a chance to talk directly to the viewers.”

It was for the same reason that WPSD-TV in Paducah, Kentucky, began offering free time to candidates in 1984.

“I was at a broadcasters’ convention and someone asked then-Senate candidate Mitch McConnell why he didn’t talk about the issues,” said WPSD president Fred Paxton. “McConnell answered, ‘Because you guys aren’t interested. How much can you say in 30 seconds?’”

Driving home, Paxton said he thought about McConnell’s comments and decided he was right. Paxton made up his mind “to remove the filter between the candidate and the voter.”

This election, WPSD offered each candidate for Kentucky senator four 2-minute time segments to discuss issues. The candidates for Illinois governor and senator were given two 2-minute time slots. The candidates’ statements were played in the middle of the newscasts.

“We tell the candidate that we’re turning the camera on and that in two minutes we’re turning it off,” Paxton said.

Both WPSD-TV and KTIV-TV offer studio time to record the candidates, bringing in camera crews on the weekend and on overtime to accommodate a candidate’s busy schedule. The stations will also send a photographer to where the candidate is, even if it means traveling a hundred miles. “It can get expensive but it is worth it,” Turner said.

“It is not an exercise of generosity,” said Paxton, “but journalism.”