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Wyoming Pols Get Free Time

KCWY, Sunbelt Communications Co.'s NBC affiliate in Casper, Wyo., has offered 10 free minutes of airtime apiece to the eight candidates for Wyoming's single seat in the House in advance of the Aug. 17 primary.

GM Bill Sullivan says he and News Director Joey Parker decided it was the right thing to do given the importance of the election for Wyoming's only House member and the limited resources of some of the candidates. In fact, Sullivan says he will probably do the same thing for the candidates in the general election.

Each will get five minutes in the 5 p.m. news, repeated in the next day's morning newscast.
They will be encouraged to stay positive, rather than attack their opponents, but the station will not censor the messages, says Sullivan. He also says the time will be promoted so that viewers will know to tune in.

No official responses from any candidates, yet, but Miller says it's too early given that the invites were only e-mailed Friday.

Still, he seems to have one unofficial taker already. Sullivan says he has gotten thanks from a candidate who said he couldn't have afforded the time and will now have a chance to talk directly to the voters. Another candidate also checked in to see what background the message will be shot against. ("We'll use the same background for everyone," says Sullivan.)

NAB sent out a station advisory two weeks ago encouraging broadcasters to ramp up free time efforts if possible, but Miller says that was not the impetus for the move, pointing out that he had made a similar offer in a gubernatorial race when he was at WSBT-TV South Bend, Ind.

In the face of criticism from Washington that broadcasters don't carry enough candidate-centered speech, NAB has countered that a number of candidates refuse offers of free time. It made that point in the station advisory, which it also sent to Senator John McCain and FCC Chairman Michael Powell in the wake of their call for more political speech from broadcasters.

Miller supplied some anecdotal evidence, telling B&C that at WSBT, the incumbent governor took a pass on the free time offer.