Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Local Anchorage TV Station Fights Citizens United With Free Airtime For Candidates

Jeremy Lansman, the owner of KYES television in Anchorage, and, from what I can tell, one of the few independent and locally owned television stations in the country, sent out emails to candidates yesterday.  He emailed those candidates running for the legislature who have emails listed with the Alaska Division of Elections.

Jeremy is a friend of mine and the information for this post comes from conversations and emails, including a Skype chat I recorded Monday evening July 16, which you can listen to below.

Essentially, as I understand this, each candidate can make video spots of 30 seconds.   Jeremy is allocating 10% of his ad time to this project. That comes to about two per hour.  If he has two candidates send him videos, that air time will be divided by the two equally.  If 30 respond, the available space will be divided evenly among all 30 of them.

This is a new project and there are still some things to work out.  It depends on the response.  He will allow people to turn in more than one video, or new ones as time goes by.   Any changes will be made at the next weekly schedule.   

His motivation comes, in part, from his lifelong interest in using radio and television to promote the democratic process. Jeremy, I've learned over the years, is something of a legend among those who know about community radio in the US.  You can read about more about his past here.

The free tv time is stimulated now by the threat of huge amounts of money anonymously spent on ads to attack candidates that seems to be the most talked about outcome of the Supreme Court's 2010 decision Citizens United.  

Just last night, the US Senate, on a party line vote, The Disclose Act, was voted down 51-43. (It used to be that a seven person margin was enough to pass a bill.  Remember those days?)  The bill would have required the disclosure of the names of people who contributed more than $10,000 to independent groups that air so called issue ads that are aimed at affecting elections. 

There was a late night Democratic telethon for the bill on CSPAN and apparently it will be reintroduced Tuesday.  The picture is a screenshot of Sen. Merkley of Oregon explaining how the Supreme Court has changed the Declaration of Independence opening words from "We the People" to "We the Powerful" in the mostly empty Senate chambers.

While the topic is important, I must admit it was not riveting television.  They had more time to talk than they were prepared to fill well.   Limiting politicians to 30 seconds, as KYES proposes,  while forcing a certain amount of superficiality, will also require candidates to distill their most important messages.

I was hoping to get this up as an audio file, but I'm having troubles doing that.  So it's video format, but just audio.  It's most of a conversation I had with Jeremy about how exactly he plans to make this work.  It gives you a sense of Jeremy's motivation and the experimental nature of this. 


  1. Here in Australia, TV stations are bound by law to give equal ad time to both major parties.

  2. That sounds more reasonable, but what about minor parties?

  3. There's only usually one minor party and their job seems to be to hold the balance of power in the senate (one now-defunct party held the balance for decades and their only platform was "Keeping the Bastards Honest") and minor parties tend not to advertise on TV. They do, however, get plenty of media coverage. I don't think anyone has seen a need to change the legislation.


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