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December 06, 2003


No Sharpton on SNL for Iowa
Reverend Al Sharpton hosts Saturday Night Live tonight, but they won't be seeing it in Iowa. [STORY] All four local NBC affiliates in Iowa have decided not to run the live program, citing fears of getting tangled up in FCC Equal Time provisions in advance of his participation in the Democratic presidential caucuses in January.

Sharpton's campaign manager Charles Halloran had a clever retort. "Their lawyers must not have finished law school because NBC went through all sorts of research to make sure that it was appropriate."

Halloran had a cute remark, but it doesn't alter the underlying issue: all these FCC content rules stifle free expression. This makes a perfect example.

Sharpton's appearance on SNL may or may not be a violation of equal time provisions. It might be that none of the other candidates would complain. It might be that they would, but that the local stations would prevail in front of the FCC or in front of a court. Sharpton's manager might be exactly right.

On the other hand, screw it. The stations don't need the hassle, the possible liability or expense. They might well be judged not to be in any violation- after spending tens or conceivably hundreds of thousands of dollars defending themselves.

If it was my station, I would be inclined to put the show on as a matter of principle. This is a news event, even, besides a regularly scheduled network program, and voters who are interested absolutely SHOULD see this before making up their minds. Which might be a good argument against having me as a station manager, as my idea of principles would interfere with the most rational business judgment for what to do in such a situation.

The station managers have made what in fact looks like the best reasonable decision from the perspective of their job responsiblities. They are running businesses, not crusading for truth, justice and the American way. They are responsible for maximizing returns for stockholders. That is their principle job, and they don't need to be courting expense and problems over an episode of a late night comedy show.

It's hard enough to get businessmen to do the right thing by the community often times, and the more difficult you make it, obviously the less likely they are to do it. Fairness doctrines and equal time provisions and other content regulations actively turn the interests of business against open debate and thus against the true interest of the public.


posted by Al at 12/06/2003 04:52:00 PM

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