Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Trumpin' the Equal Time rule

Seems like everywhere you turn these days, Donald Trump happens to show up. No not in person, but in the form of memes, ads, or even comedy shows. On November 7, 2015, Trump will return to doing business with NBCUniversal by hosting Saturday Night Live (“SNL”). So what about Trump’s rivals from the Republican party? Live from New York…It’s Jeb Bush?!

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has something that is known as the “Equal Time” rule. This provision of the 1934 Communications Act § 315 “requires radio and television stations and cable systems which originate their own programming to treat legally qualified political candidates equally when it comes to selling or giving away air time.” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the same opportunity. So no, you won’t be seeing Jeb Bush or Chris Christie hosting SNL anytime soon. But it could mean that NBC stations have the obligation to let other candidates appear for free for an equal amount of time.

The other Republicans candidates will have seven days after Trump’s appearance to make equal opportunity demands upon NBC stations. If this happens, the FCC faces some difficult decisions, such as whether Trump is a “legally qualified” candidate under FCC rules. If not, then the other candidates do not need equal time.

NBC could argue that that SNL should be treated under the news exception to the equal time rule, given that the program is scripted. But this argument is a bit of a stretch. In good SNL fashion, they will most likely just make fun of the equal time rule, like they did in 2002 when presidential candidate John McCain was on the show (jump to 3:58).

Only time will tell if any of the other candidates take advantage of the equal time rule. In the meantime, I look forward to hopefully seeing the real Trump dressed up like a pizza!

Sarah Wobken
Managing Editor