Equal Time for Candidates?

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

photo: mark arbeit

This month, we have a Q&A with former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who is currently running for mayor of Honolulu. Some of the other campaigns around town have noticed and have gotten in touch with us to request and/or demand their “equal time.”

I know this idea of equal coverage for candidates is something people may not have heard of, so a quick note seems in order. For broadcast media such as television and radio stations, “equal time” is required by law, on the premise that because those media operate through a shared public resource—their respective parts of the electromagnetic spectrum—they have an obligation to provide equal amounts of coverage to candidates for public office.

Wikipedia has a readable summary of the law and its exceptions. Even TV and radio are exempt in certain cases, such as during spot news reporting. (In practice, the “equal time” rule strikes me as a fairly bogus when it comes to, say, network-sponsored presidential debates, which reinforce a Republican-Democratic party duopoly in this country by deliberately excluding third-party candidates.)

The “equal time” law does not apply to magazines, which, because they are privately owned and produced, are free to hone in on the stories they find most interesting. For us, the most interesting story in this election cycle was that of Ben Cayetano coming out of retirement to run for an office he had never pursued before and one that some might say was a kind of demotion given that his last office was governor of the entire state.

For the two campaigns that reached out to us so far for their “equal time,” just a reminder that they’ve had a turn in our pages before, here are links to those stories, all worth rereading:

Meet the Mayor: Peter Carlisle, Jan. 2011

Peter the Prosecutor, Aug. 2008

How is the Mayor Doing? (A profile of Mufi Hannemann), Jan. 2007