Calif. Channel Offers Free Political Airtime

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Candidates for statewide office in California will gain
access to more than 100 hours of television time as part of California Channel's
"Cable's Free Airtime Project."

The state version of C-SPAN will air a weekly program,
until November's election, profiling each of the major and minor candidates who
agreed to be interviewed through the League of Women Voters. The 11 races include
governor, lieutenant governor, controller and superintendent of public instruction.

Candidates, especially those in the minority parties,
lauded the effort.

"It's scandalous. This is supposed to be a
democracy, but in reality, it's one vote for every $1 you can spend. [The cable
effort] is the only way that we can get coverage," said Ron Holiday, campaign manager
for Peace & Freedom gubernatorial candidate Gloria La Riva.

Get-out-the-vote groups also expressed their support for
the network's plan.

"We applaud California's cable industry for
providing resources and programming that will greatly aid state voters in making informed
choices in November," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter
Foundation, in a prepared statement.

Earlier this summer, cable veteran Bill Daniels offered to
give federal political candidates more than $86,000 in free advertising time on his two
systems if federal authorities assured him in advance that the move would not be construed
as an illegal corporate campaign contribution.

California Channel officials said all of the gubernatorial
candidates took advantage of the offer. A total of 72 candidates are vying for state
posts, and 60 went to the channel's rented studios in Sacramento to film pieces.

"All candidates saw this as a real opportunity to
overcome the odds on campaign finances," said John Hancock, president of the
public-affairs channel.

Hancock estimated that the airtime project will rack up
$30,000 in production costs, but he did not try to put a value on the airtime.

Virtually all of the state's cable operators support
the channel, which normally covers the actions of the state legislature. Hancock said
nonaffiliate operators indicated that they will try to run tapes of the candidates on
public access.

That might may be a challenge: Nonaffiliates, including
broadcasters to which the coverage is offered, must agree to show all of the interviews of
all the candidates. That's a six-hour-and-20-minute program, with 10-minute
gubernatorial interviews and five minutes devoted to each of the other candidates. And
broadcasters that agree to run the program may not edit it into "sound bites."

So far, a few Public Broadcasting Service stations and one
major FM-radio station have expressed interest in carrying the candidates' block,
Hancock said.

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