Friday, March 23, 2012

Airtime Scarcity

Part of our long running debate here at DCExile over Citizen's United and the drowning out effect on speech has centered around airtime, its abundance, and the relative value of that abundance--HGTV at midnight versus CNN during prime time or your local network during evening news. Campaigns & Elections, in a provocatively titled article, reports:

Thomas says. “Once you’re sold out, you’re out.” Trying not to panic, you nonetheless feel a little like you’re at the supermarket shopping for hurricane supplies and finding only empty shelves where the batteries and water once were.

Get used to it, consultants and station managers warn. Airtime scarcity will be more of an issue in 2012 than ever before.

After the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and with more than 300 Super PACs preparing to take to the airwaves against the backdrop of a presidential campaign that could very well pit the two best funded candidates in history against one another, the vital commodity of broadcast TV time could be hard to find.

“I believe this will be a record-setting year,” says Thomas. “In the battleground states, running out of inventory is a possibility.”


Update: There's an additional point to be made about drowning out whether we will actually witness it or not. The harm of drowning out is not merely expressive--the muting of some weaker, less moneyed voices and points of view--although that would be a sufficient harm to give us pause. The harm posed by drowning out is also one of accountability. By muting the voices of some, drowning out denies those drowned-out individuals or groups at least one mode of sanctioning their governors and, thus, denying them the ability to hold their governs accountable. 

2 comments:

Colin said...

Reading the article, I still didn't come across any evidence of the drowning-out scenario and evidence of people being unable to get their message out. Indeed, as the article notes:

This isn’t to suggest that groups with money to spend won’t be able to get on TV. Ad sales managers such as Thomas wield their inventory well. They can often shuffle their lineups to push spots for local car dealers and mattress wholesalers past Election Day to make room. Plus, there are always slots available during the daytime schedule, or on radio, cable or online.

This is what I have been saying all along; there are so many outlets for politically advertising that the amount of free speech is practically infinite (this doesn't even mention other methods such as lawn signs, billboards, newspaper ads, leaflets, t-shirts, etc).

The only point I see in this article is that the precious commodity of advertising over broadcast TV in primetime is a limited resource that could sell out, which surprises me not at all. But the notion that a candidate (and note that federal candiates are guaranteed access to the airwaves) or issue group will be somehow drowned out due to Citizens United still remains unsupported by available evidence.

I'm also blown away by all of the free speech we are apparently set to see this election season -- even Arkansas grad students are setting up their own PAC. Our democracy seems more vibrant than ever.

Ben said...

Couple of things.

1. The only point I see in this article is that the precious commodity of advertising over broadcast TV in primetime is a limited resource that could sell out, which surprises me not at all.

That's the whole point.

2. I'm also blown away by all of the free speech we are apparently set to see this election season -- even Arkansas grad students are setting up their own PAC.

Citizen's United has nothing to do with this.

3. With respect to the guarantee candidates enjoy due to the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, that applies to barriers put up by broadcast stations and state merely that "reasonable access" must be afforded.

Additionally, the law is federal, but I believe it applies to any "qualified candidate," the definition of which extends beyond federal candidates.