Report: Public radio station airs Alaska Native political message
"Radio station KNBA 90.3 FM has found a new frontier for public radio in Anchorage by running an advertisement from a political group that has inserted itself into the U.S. Senate three-way, one of the most hotly contested and heavily covered races of 2010. The advertisement—although noncommercial broadcasters seem compelled to call advertisements “announcements” and refer to advertisers as “underwriters”—was brought to KNBA listeners by Alaskans Standing Together, which unabashedly supports U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign, while casting itself as independent of the Murkowksi’s official campaign.

It’s not a first for public radio in Alaska. Listeners in Juneau have been hearing political ads for several years. Still, KNBA management says the decision to run the spots was made only after careful consideration. Noncommercial stations such as KNBA are not allowed to support political candidates under Federal Communication Commission rules. That rule applies to in-house endorsements, the content the station creates. There is no parallel rule that says noncommercial stations cannot accept an announcement underwritten by a campaign, but there are rules that limit just how far the script of the announcement can go.

“This is not [KNBA’s] editorial and no candidate is mentioned, and it is really up to stations [to set policies],” says Carol Schatz, chief operating officer of Koahnic Broadcasting, the nonprofit that owns KNBA. Schatz says many noncommercial stations around the country—Juneau’s National Public Radio affiliate KTOO is one, she says—have begun to accept paid spots from political organizations, without running afoul of the FCC.

The group Alaskans Standing Together describes itself as independent of the Murkowski camp because it must. It’s a legal way to organize under federal election laws, which require stuff like disclosing how much money a group spends and who—or what corporate entity—donated the money. These independent groups cannot coordinate campaign activities with the official campaign. Then they get to raise money from sources that already donated their legal limit to the campaign. (Campaign finance law is under scrutiny and could soon be subject to reforms, particularly after a conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court ruled corporations and people have similar free speech rights.)"

Get the Story:
Public radio’s slippery slope (The Anchorage Press 10/21)

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