November 9, 2002
WHAT'S THE FREQUENCY, KENNETH?:The 30-Second Democracy (Richard Cohen, November 8, 2002, Washington Post)
So now we come to yet another of Tuesday night's unheralded winners -- Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican will soon become chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Along with Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), McCain has introduced a bill that would require radio and TV stations to air a minimum of two hours a week of political programming in the campaign season. The proposal is the brainchild of Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns.
Does the bill have a chance? Not in the immediate future. The owners of local TV and radio stations are a powerful lobby. Two years ago, they made almost $7 million in political contributions. What's more, they are just the sort of people politicians are loath to anger. They own the 6 o'clock news, after all.
But the American people own the airwaves. The broadcast spectrum is limited. The broadcast media, unlike (thank God) newspapers, are licensed. The government assigns frequencies. It has the constitutional right to require that broadcasters give us something in return. They could start by devoting two hours to discussions of political or ideological issues.
Certainly, the McCain-Feingold-Durbin bill is no panacea for a political system that has the ethics of a hooker and the attention span of a goldfish. But if it weans candidates even a bit from the 30-second spot and relieves them of the burden of always having their hands out, then American democracy will be better for it. We can only hope that the new Republican congressional leadership gives it more than 30 seconds of consideration.
Once you get past the obligatory implication by Mr. Cohen that the GOP won because the system is flawed, he actually gets to a valid point. It won't reduce the number of political ads on TV one little bit, but broadcasters should be forced to perform such public services as part of their licensing. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 9, 2002 12:27 PM