Q&A: Political advertising requirements


From the Pulaski County Journal (Winamac):

Q: There has been discussion in our office regarding political candidates and if there are regulations that newspapers must follow, such as giving equal coverage to all candidates.

We also want to know if we run a price special on regular advertising and a candidate takes advantage of that, does it mean that we must give the same special to all candidates? We found regulations for political advertising for TV and radio, but not newspapers.

A: Radio and TV don’t enjoy the First Amendment’s freedom of the press, thus the federal government can regulate them. But as a newspaper, you have the discretion to favor a candidate through your editorial content or advertising.

But there’s a caveat: If you give a special discount to a candidate not available to other candidates, then it could be construed as a campaign donation that would have to be reported.

This is an easy issue to avoid, however. Just make the same pricing with possible discounts for volume of advertising purchased available to all candidates.

If candidate A takes advantage of the program and earns a discount and candidate B buys less advertising and doesn’t earn the discount, that’s not a problem because you’ve offered the volume discount equally to both. It’s up to the candidate to take advantage of the opportunity.

So yes, I suggest you treat all candidates equally as to pricing and how they can earn discounts, but if one earns a special rate, you don’t have to give other candidates that rate when they didn’t earn it under the terms of the promotion.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.