For the second time in as many months, a Los Angeles television station has been asked for equal time by a Riverside County congressional candidate after the station aired a film starring Ralph Waite, who is also seeking the seat.
Jeffrey Jacobs, who is running against Waite for the Democratic nomination in the 37th Congressional District, contacted KCOP Channel 13 on Thursday after it broadcast "A Wedding on Walton's Mountain" at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The 1982 made-for-television movie was a continuation of the long-running CBS series that starred Waite as the patriarch of a rural Virginia family during the Depression and World War II.
Rick Feldman, KCOP vice president and station manager, said that he will decide on Jacobs' request after consulting with the station's Washington-based lawyer. The decision to air the film was made three months ago, he said.
"We're running a station and are not thinking of who's running for office," Feldman said. "We are not up to date on who's running for every congressional seat. It's a movie that comes up once in a while and does a 1 rating."
On March 18, KCBS Channel 2 aired another film starring Waite, "The Secret Life of John Chapman," which resulted in Jacobs and fellow candidate Johnny Pearson requesting equal time from that station.
Under federal law, television and radio stations must provide equal time to opposing candidates whenever a candidate who has qualified for the ballot appears on a broadcast outside of bona fide newscasts, interview programs, documentaries or spot coverage of news events, provided that the opposing candidates request such time within seven days of the broadcast.
Similar cases in the past have resulted in competing candidates being given an amount of air time equal to the time the actor/candidate actually appeared on screen, not for the entire broadcast in which he appeared.
John Whitehurst, Waite's campaign manager, believes this situation puts his candidate at a disadvantage.
"Ralph Waite was not discussing issues pertinent to this race, but playing a character role," Whitehurst said Friday. "This is how he made his living and continues to make his living. It is unfortunate (that) his job puts him in a disadvantage if the station gives his opponent free time to talk about the campaign, whereas we wouldn't have the opportunity to talk about the campaign."
In KCBS' case, the station did not act on the request because neither candidate contacted the station in writing, spokeswoman Lisa DeLucia said.
However, the request does not have to be made in writing, according to Milton Gross, chief of the Federal Communications Commission's political branch.
Pearson, the Democratic nominee for the seat in 1988, died March 29 following a massive stroke.