The equal-time rule specifies that U.S. radio and television broadcast stations must provide an equivalent opportunity to any opposing political candidates who request it. This means, for example, that if a station gives one free minute to a candidate on the prime time, it must do the same for another candidate.
However, there are four exceptions: if the air-time was in a documentary, bona fide news interview, scheduled newscast or an on-the-spot news event the equal-time rule is not valid. Since 1983, political debates not hosted by the media station are considered news events, thus may include only major-party candidates without having to offer air time to minor-party or independent candidates. Talk shows and other regular news programming from syndicators, such as Entertainment Tonight, are declared exempt from the rule by the FCC on a case-on-case basis.
This rule originated in § 18 of the Radio Act of 1927. It was later superseded by the Communications Act of 1934, where the Equal Time Rule is codified as § 315(a) from censoring campaign ads. A related provision, in § 315(b), requires that broadcasters offer time to candidates at the same rate as their "most favored advertiser".
The Equal Time rule should not be confused with the now defunct Fairness Doctrine, which dealt with presenting balanced points of view on matters of public importance.
- Gardner, Eriq (2 December 2011). "Anderson Cooper's Talk Show Is a News Program, FCC Rules; The government regulators have determined the talk show qualifies as news and is thus exempt from obligations to giving political candidates equal air time.". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 December 2011.