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Gray TV’s Guide to Political Advertising


WASHINGTON, Gray DC – Political advertisements ran throughout an election year. You can’t avoid them.

We get a lot of questions from viewers on this topic: Why is our TV station running them? Can we censor them? Do we have to allow airtime for all candidates?

This Gray TV Political Advertising Guide breaks down state political advertising regulations.

TV stations rely on advertising to make money. Politicians buy advertising time to reach voters. And the Federal Communications Commission makes the rules.

It’s important to note that there are two types of political ads: candidate ads and topic ads.

“The candidate ads – these come directly from the candidate or his authorized campaign committee,” said Joan Stewart, an FCC rules attorney at Wiley Political Action Committee – someone outside that constituency. “

We asked Stewart to answer a question we get a lot: Does our TV station have to run topic and candidate ads?

“Broadcasters are not required to send advertising,” said Stewart. “Candidate ads – it depends on the type of candidate. The broadcasters are legally obliged to grant federal candidates what is known as ‘reasonable access’. That means they have to grant at least some of the time requested by a federal candidate. “

Federal candidates are those running for President, Vice President, US House of Representatives, and US Senate. In addition, they must be “legally qualified” – that is, they have announced their candidacy and are among other things qualified for the position they are aiming for.

So if our broadcaster advertises for a candidate, do we have to advertise for the competitor as well?

Stewart stated, “A one-off candidate comes in and buys a schedule – maybe he has some great prime time spots, maybe they appear on sports programs – his opposing candidate has the right to come in and say, ‘I want to be as close as possible’ to one equivalent schedule that you can give me for the same price. ‘ And the broadcaster must do its best to comply with this request. “

This is called “same time”. The same time does not only apply to advertising. The appearance of a legally qualified candidate on our channel gives the opposing candidates the opportunity to request the same time, with a few exceptions.

“For example, if a candidate shows up on a newscast and what they’re doing is newsworthy – maybe you’re reporting on their campaign or something – it’s not the same time,” Stewart said.

The other candidates have seven days to apply for the same time.

Our broadcaster must keep detailed files on the political advertisements we run and make them available to the public.

“It’s all online now,” said Matt Eldredge, general manager of Gray TV station KOLO 8 News Now in Reno, Nev. “There’s a link on our website and you can access our FCC site, and we have to … the timetable. The timetable has something [campaigns] bought, the dates, the times and so on. “

Eldredge’s channels – and all of our gray TV channels – are responsible for ensuring that key elements are included in any political ad before it airs.

“You need to indicate who is sponsoring or paying for the ad,” Eldredge explained.

Federal candidates must also make this statement orally: “I am (name) and I have approved this ad.”

With a few exceptions, state or local candidates only need to disclose funding in writing.

“The font must be 4% of the screen and be at least four seconds long,” said Eldredge.

Our broadcaster is not responsible for the content of the advertisements. We often hear from viewers who think they are offensive or full of lies.

“Under FCC regulations, we cannot censor a candidate ad or refuse to run a candidate ad, regardless of the claims made in the ad,” said Eldredge.

The no-censorship rule does not apply to the display of advertisements, as our broadcaster does not have to place them.

So the next time you see a political ad on our channel, find out more about why we are broadcasting it.

Links to the FCC rules:



Wiley’s Political Promotion 101:


To view the public inspection files from Gray TV channels:

On a Gray TV station’s home page, scroll to the bottom of the website. You will see a link for either “Public Inspection File” or “FCC Public File”.

Senior reporter / executive producer Ted Fioraliso contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Gray DC. All rights reserved.


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