Pappas Telecasting takes heat over free political ads

After a pre-election flap over political bias put Sinclair’s television stations in the headlines earlier in the month, Pappas Telecasting joined the fray last week after it was revealed that the station group gave $325,000 in free political ads to Republican candidates in California.

Pappas is a privately held Visalia, CA-based owner and operator of 20 TV station affiliates of six major broadcasting networks (ABC, CBS, F OX, The WB, UPN, and Azteca America). The free spots were given to opponents of local California Democrats, including State Sen. Mike Machado, Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto and Assembly Member Nicole Parra.

A spokeswoman for Pappas said the broadcaster had legally paid for the time, and therefore did not give the politicians “a freebie or free time.”

A group of media activists called Free Press argued, however, that Pappas violated the FCC’s “equal time rule,” which stipulates that a station that sells or gives one minute to one candidate must sell or give the same amount of time with the same audience potential to all other candidates for that particular office. However, a candidate who cannot afford time does not receive free time unless his or her opponent is also given free time.

In retaliation to the move, Democratic leaders in California called on viewers and advertisers to boycott TV and radio stations owned by Pappas Telecasting.

After the story broke, Pappas extended to Democratic candidates a smaller offer of free air time on a company-owned Spanish language station in San Francisco — time that critics said would be of little use to candidates in the hotly contested Central Valley races.

Though the FCC could do a last minute intervention, most reports expected no resolution to come until after the election.

Pappas denies favoring Republican candidates.

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