FCC Rejects Kucinich's Attempt to Appear on CNN Democratic Debate

The Federal Communications Commission wound up denying Democratic candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (Ohio) last-ditch attempt to participate in CNN's debate Monday night between the three leading Democratic candidates.

Kucinich filed a complaint with the FCC late last week arguing that he was being excluded from the debate in violation of the equal-time provision of the law, which requires FCC licensees to afford equal opportunities for airtime to all candidates for an office if it allows any candidate to use its airwaves.

Kucinich said the debate -- among Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) -- was not a bona fide news event unless it covered all credible candidates; that his exclusion was not based on good-faith news judgment; and that CNN would not be acting in the public interest by excluding his “strong anti-war and national-health-care messages” from the debate.

The commission denied the complaint for a number of reasons. The FCC found that CNN's criteria for who could participate in the debate were not unreasonable -- that a candidate have finished in the top four in any of the early primaries or caucuses and that he or she be polling at least 5% in any of the major national polls. The commission also concluded that the debate met the criteria -- between at least two legally qualified candidates -- for a bona fide news event, which is exempt from the equal-time requirement.

The agency added that while it has expressed some concern that a "major presidential candidate" not be excluded from a debate, it said Kucinich had not provided sufficient evidence that he was a "major presidential candidate."

The FCC also said that even if it had triggered equal time, that time does not have to be on the same broadcast.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.