Short of Funds, Prop. 103 Receiving Free TV Time

Times Staff Writer

At least 29 television stations throughout California, including six of the seven regular commercial channels in Los Angeles, are giving Ralph Nader’s financially strapped Proposition 103 campaign at least some free air time to respond to insurance industry commercials attacking the measure, the Nader campaign said Monday.

The insurance industry confirmed, meanwhile, that it has written all 35 regular commercial stations in the state contending that the so-called “fairness doctrine” under which the free time is being given was struck down in its entirety last year by the Federal Communications Commission.

Citing FCC Letter

But Prop. 103 campaign coordinators, who say they are unable to afford to buy any commercials, have been obtaining time from most of the state’s stations by citing a letter sent to Congress on Sept. 22, 1987, by FCC Chairman Dennis R. Patrick, in which he said the commission decision did not rule out application of the fairness doctrine to campaigns involving ballot measures.


The industry has also told the stations that under a 10-year-old advisory from the California Fair Political Practices Commission, free time given to campaigns should be reported officially as a campaign contribution.

In most cases, the Prop. 103 campaign is being allowed to submit its own 30-second commercials, usually on a basis of one for every three to five commercials the insurance industry has been using against it, campaign coordinator Bill Zimmerman said.

But a Eureka station has agreed to use a five-minute Nader talk in favor of the measure, and a San Francisco station, KGO-TV, filmed its own 60-second interview with Prop. 103 Chairman Harvey Rosenfield instead of accepting 30-second commercials.

One Los Angeles station, KNBC-TV, has been using its own summary of Prop. 103 as a response mechanism rather than accept commercials.


Zimmerman released the text of a Nader commercial that began airing Monday in which the consumer advocate tells watchers: “Of the five insurance propositions on the ballot, I’m supporting only one, Proposition 103, the only proposition guaranteed to rollback everybody’s rates. . . . If you make 103 a winner, you’ll get real insurance against insurance companies.”

Some Running in Prime Time

Some of the 103 rebuttal commercials are running in prime time slots, and others at less advantageous times, Zimmerman said.

The insurance industry has been airing advertising and sending mail out in Northern and Central California contending that both Propositions 100 and 103 will raise, rather than reduce, rates of most people who live outside Los Angeles. A 3-million-piece mailing that arrived in many homes on Saturday, for instance, asked: “Why Should We Pay More So Los Angeles Can Pay Less?” Both the Prop. 100 and Prop. 103 campaigns say the allegation is false and that the propositions would roll back rates in all parts of the state equally.

Unlike the 103 campaign, the 100 campaign, heavily financed by trial lawyers, bankers and chiropractors, has sufficient funds to buy its own advertising, and so it is making no request for free time.

Nader’s campaign has no major backing from interest groups and reported last week that it is more than $600,000 in debt.

According to the Prop. 103 campaign, seven stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, four in Sacramento, two in San Diego, two in Fresno, three in Bakersfield, two in Chico/Redding, one in Salinas/Monterey and one in Santa Barbara have given the Nader measure some free response time.

The campaign said that in Los Angeles, Channel 4, KNBC; Channel 5, KTLA; Channel 7, KABC; Channel 9, KHJ; Channel 11, KTTV, and Channel 13, KCOP have given some free response time, and that only Channel 2, KCBS, has refused.


Tisch Involvement Cited

Rosenfield and Zimmerman, saying that KCBS attorneys referred them to CBS corporate headquarters in New York, have charged that the station is refusing to give them free time because Laurence Tisch, CBS’ chief executive officer, has an ownership interest in an insurance company.

CBS, however, in a letter to them, has cited the FCC fairness doctrine decision of last year as its reason. Due to the Columbus Day holiday, KCBS officials were not available for comment Monday.

Meanwhile, some television stations have also offered free time to a committee formed by Common Cause and other organizations in opposition to three insurance company-sponsored initiatives on the November ballot, Propositions 101, 104 and 106. That committee too has reported few funds at its disposal.