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Broadcasters Make Time for Politics

Hearst-Argyle is increasing its promise of election news and candidate-centered airtime to 10 minutes per day, at least five of original content, in the 30 days before both elections and primiaries.

That pledge applies to its 26 stations that carry local news.

Hearst-Agyle launched its program in 2000, when it pledged a minimum of five minutes per day. Numerous broadcast groups have also pledged five-minute minimums in the 30 days before elections.

Last week, Scripps said its nine TV stations will offer five minutes of free election-centered airtime between 5 p.m. and 11:35 p.m. nightly in the 30 days before the general election, and time "as needed" before primaries.

Look for more broadcasters to follow suit this time around, says the National Association of Broadcasters.  Not surprisingly, legislators in Washington are frequently calling on broadcasters to provide free time to candidates, most notably Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has sought to make that mandatory via campaign reform legislation.

Some in Congress, which will ultimately determine whether broadcasters get multicast digital must-carry, want political airtime to be one of broadcasters' explicit public-interest obligations in the digital age. Broadcasters have balked at mandatory minimums but have increasingly offered airtime.

Not everybody in Washington is on the same page, though. Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) during the last election cycle warned that offering too much free airtime could create a sort of entitlement "monster," with candidates coming to expect the time, including third party-candidates and local as well as national politicians.