July 4, 1960
SUSPENDS SEC. 315
it's up to the House to follow suit
Senate last week gave its approval to a plan to allow broadcasters
to present major party presidential and vice presidential nominees
during this election year without being subject to demands for equal
time from minority and splinter party choices for those offices.
J Res 207 was passed by a voice vote after senators were told during
debate that the networks (and inferentially, their affiliates) have
promised to make free time available on tv and radio to the Democratic
and Republican nominees for the nation's highest elective offices
if allowed to do it under their own formats and their own concepts
by the Senate Monday, the resolution was sent to the House and referred
to the House Commerce Committee.
to the senate suspension was immediately forthcoming from all three
networks. NBC Chairman Robert W. Sarnoff wired an offer of eight
weekly hours of prime time to candidates, Dr. Frank Stanton called
the senate action "a critically important step in freeing radio
and television." ABC President Oliver Treyz again called for
voluntary acquisition of three different prime evening time hours
by the networks beginning nine weeks before election.
Treatment . The only challenge to the resolution came from Sen.
Ralph W. Yarborough (D-Tex.), chairman of the Senate Communications
Subcommittee's watchdog unit. Sen. Yarborough questioned whether
broadcasters would treat both parties equally and offered an amendment
which would have required the exemptions of Sec. 315 to apply to
broadcast debates only. But he withdrew the proposal after assurance
from Sen. John O. Pastore (D. R.I.), chairman of the Senate Communications
Subcommittee who explained the proposal to senators, that both the
networks and their affiliates are honor bound by network testimony
last May that candidates of both major parties would receive equal
treatment from broadcasters.
Pastore conceded broadcasters could favor one candidate over another
without directly violating a law, but he said any such action would
amount to "bad faith" in their agreements with his subcommittee
and that the FCC still is charged with seeing that licensees present
public issues fairly and impartially.
Rhode Island Democrat acknowledged the FCC had not commented on
the suspension proposal and said that the formula or format for
presenting presidential and vice presidential candidates will have
to be worked out among the candidates, the national committees and
broadcasters. Speaking of Sen. Yarborough's proposal for a debate
format, he said there might be "a thousand" reasons why
a candidate would not wish to appear in a debate with his opponent.
In the 1952 campaign, he said, one candidate offered to debate,
but his opponent refused.
senators agreeing with Sen. Pastore were Clair Engle (D-Calif.),
Andrew Schoeppel (R-Kan.), Hugh Scott (R-Pa.), A.S. (Mike) Monroney
(D-Okla.), Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) and Frank
Follow-Up . The measure calls for the FCC to report by next
March 1 on how the suspension plan worked during the 1960 election
campaign and to recommend any legislation it thinks necessary to
amend Sec. 315 permanently.
Yarborough's three-man watch-dog subcommittee has been assigned
the function of watching for broadcaster abuses of Sec. 315 as regards
exemptions of the section enacted last year for candidates' appearances
on news and panel shows and also under the Sec. 315 suspension for
presidential and vice presidential nominees, if enacted. The subcommittee's
report also is to be made early next year.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce has released a statement supporting S J
Res 207. The American Civil Liberties Union has gone on record as
favoring legislation which would "affirmatively require"
broadcasters to make time available for political campaigning to
all legally-qualified candidates for every office. ACLU also supports
legislation to place the networks under FCC regulation.
Sarnoff's offer of free time was wired to House Speaker Sam Rayburn
immediately after the senate suspension. He said that NBC was ready
to offer an hour series entitled The Great Debate, if the
bill cleared congress. Debate would be given eight weekly
hours of prime time, the first four shows devoted to discussion
between candidates on issues. The second half of the series would
feature candidates being interviewed a la Meet the Press. Mr.
Sarnoff said that his network will remain open to suggestions
by the candidates themselves.
Treyz presented ABC's proposal that each network voluntarily give
up three different periods of prime time nine weeks before the election.
Each hour, he said, would be rotated on the different networks for
the use of presidential or vice presidential candidates. He said
that after approval by the Justice Dept., he would seek the "necessary
acquiescence" by the FCC and ask for a meeting with other network
officials and political leaders to work out a commonly acceptable
ABC president warned that candidates would end up debating a total
of 24 hours during the nine-week period if each of the networks
allocated eight hours. He suggested that such lengthy exposure of
candidates on TV would contribute to sagging interest on the part
of both the viewing public and the candidates themselves.