Free Airtime Means Agenda-Free Citizenship

3-07-12

 

If you were to ask someone to name three words that are most associated with the ideals of the United States of America, there’s probably a 100% chance that one of them will be “freedom”. We live in a world where that word – and concept – are both in danger of losing significance due to it being used to advance a political agenda.

That’s why it’s so important to demonstrate how much power the word “free” has, and why such a simple concept is so important to our national mindset.

It’s for this very reason that our free, over-the-air television station groups such as Dispatch, Hearst, Post-Newsweek and Scripps are donating significant amounts of free airtime to qualified candidates during the election season.

This effort goes beyond a fiduciary cost of doing business. The station groups are elevating their role in society to serve their communities as only they can - by providing the high-visibility platform of televised Town Halls, Debates and other local programming for the free discussion of the issues for any candidate who takes them up on the offer.

Clearly, there’s been a substantial amount of discussion about Super PAC money and its influence upon the political campaigns this year. But this is no knee-jerk reaction to the recent availability of Super PAC money, as most stations have participated in these programs for years, going back to 2000.

Above and beyond the free political airtime, stations are also enlisting their multimedia capabilities, resources, and partnerships to give the voting audience as much unbiased information as they can provide. Among these resources:

  • Dispatch Broadcast Group stations in Ohio and Indiana will be contributing free political airtime, along with extended coverage of the conventions. They’ll also offer election-themed online content, notably Ohio’s WBNS and ONN stations’ “Candidate Match”, an interactive tool used to match a voter’s key issues and values with the most like-minded candidate.
  • Hearst Television’s “Commitment 2012” includes an election app that will allow voters an “anytime/anywhere” aspect for election information. They also have an exclusive deal with PolitiFact, “the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website of the Tampa Bay Times.” Their stations will have original segments using the website’s “Truth-O-Meter.”
  • Post-Newsweek Stations facilitate getting voter questions straight to the candidates through “Voter’s Voice”. “Voter Video Patrol” provides cameras to voters to document the issues facing their neighborhoods. “Meet the Candidate” segments are taped at the stations at no charge and run in local news. “Candidate Comparisons” is a side by side look at candidates’ positions and “Ad Watch” and “Truth Test” fact-check political ad claims.
  • Scripps Television Station Group’s “Democracy 2012” program includes a Florida-centric election information website for this complicated and pivotal battleground state. They’ve also added an “Ask the Candidates” area to their overall online election coverage. Along with the Center for Responsive Politics, they’re making searchable online databases available to research and track campaign contributions.


What also shouldn’t be lost in this thicket of political discourse is that this is all being done by the local television broadcasters who provide free over-the-air television to all Americans. This isn’t news and information that you pay for via a subscription. What they are providing is political information, not infotainment.

The bottom line is that the station groups are using their on-air and online media assets, not for the betterment of their own bottom line, but for the protection of one of our most basic freedoms - information.

In today’s connected landscape, without free over-the-air TV - and its commitment to a shared participation in our society - our democracy would be considerably less free.


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