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Ulmer: Candidates should get equal air time during campaign season

Ulmer: Candidates should get equal air time during campaign season


Both my loyal readers might recall that I spent 22 years of my career in elected office as a legislator and city commissioner. Thanks to the kindness of the people of Mandan, I was successfully elected nine times; it was an honor to serve.

From 1949 to 1987, we the people had something called the Fairness Doctrine. The fairness doctrine was a U.S. communications policy formulated by the Federal Communication Commission that required licensed radio and television broadcasters fair and balanced coverage of controversial issues of interest to their communities, including devoting equal airtime to opposing points of view. President Reagan ended this policy in 1987 and our airwaves have grown to the point that fairness to opposing views has gone out the window.

Prior to this, if a radio talk show host or TV station hosted town hall meetings for a U.S. senator or candidate for any office during the campaign, they had to be fair to their opponents and allow them an equal amount of air time.

Equal time doesn’t exist anymore and I think we the people need to bring it back. Public airwaves used to be regulated to assure some semblance of fairness — not so today.

For example, all of our local AM radio stations talk shows have a far right slant (Rush Limbaugh, Scott Hennen, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck) and they fill up their host stations broadcasts from 8 a.m. til late evening. So far from what can I tell, the only liberal (and he’s a middle of the road rather than far left) radio show is Joel Heitkamp out of Fargo and he’s on from 9 to 11 a.m. Joel is then followed by Glenn Beck and Hannity. 

My math indicates that the right side then gets 10 hours a day versus the left’s two hours. And despite Fox News telling us this is fair and balanced, it isn’t.

During non-campaign season, I think it’s OK to be out of balance, but during a campaign candidates from both sides should get equal time. 

One of our Bismarck station’s talk show host only allows Republican candidates so we rarely hear from their opponents. I think we the people get cheated because we only get one side of every issue.

Take a moment and see if you can identify who’s running for governor against Burgum or running against Kelly Armstrong for his House seat, or who’s running against Todd Porter and Nathan Toman for Mandan’s legislative seats. Do you know any Democrat that’s running for office?

I’ll be the first to admit that Trump will handily take North Dakota’s votes this fall (I won’t be voting for him but many will), but that doesn’t mean that you and I should be shortchanged on hearing from his opponent nor should the press being giving candidates free campaign coverage (think boat parades shown on TV or local papers) because it’s every candidate’s dream to have a free weekly radio or TV town hall. It should also be free and equal for their opponents, but rather than have this monitored by a federal regulator, it's run by the corporations that own the license to the airwaves.

Note it’s a license not a right, and can therefore be revoked. It used to be that corporate owners had to comply with the fairness doctrine -- not anymore. So it seems to me that those of us trying to form a more perfect union should demand that during campaign season our media make sure that all candidates are allowed equal time because that’s more fair than what we have now. So much for advice from the fella who understands that it’s the opposing wind that makes the kite fly high. Here’s hoping you can get yours off the ground.

Dan Ulmer is a parent, grandparent, as well as a retired teacher, counselor, politician, lobbyist, public employee, nonprofit executive and opinionated citizen who believes that we need to do what we can to leave the world better off than we found it.


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