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Opponents could claim free time, attorney says

August 24, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gubernatorial candidates Jim Talent and Bob Holden can apply for free air time on Larry Rice's broadcast stations if the televangelist continues to appear on the air, according to a Missouri Broadcaster's Association attorney.

Rice, a newly-certified independent candidate for governor and owner of 19 TV and radio stations, said he has pulled all the overtly political programs from the stations, but will continue to air his worship services, commercials promoting his ministry and ads illuminating the plight of the poor and homeless.

Rice said he decided to continue airing that programming after a discussion with his lawyer.

But Gregg Skall, the Missouri Broadcaster's Association attorney, said the shows aren't news and, therefore, are not exempt from federal equal time requirments.

"The programs qualify as equal time opportunities for Rice's opponents," Skall said.

At issue is the "Equal Time" federal law. That law requires a broadcast outlet that airs images or sounds of a certified candidate to provide the candidate's opponents an equal opportunity. If the broadcast was free, the station must also allow the opponent free time. The only exceptions are news and news-related programs.

The burden of claiming the time rests with the opponent, however, not with the station, and neither of Rice's major opponents are champing at the bit to be on his stations.

Holden's campaign said they haven't thought about the issue and Talent's spokesperson said they probably would not seek the time.

Free air time on small stations would be more attractive to third party candidates whose small campaign funds cannot cover the expense of time on commercial stations.

Reform Party candidate Richard Kline, whose campaign has only $434, said he'd be interested in the spots, though he said he wouldn't apply to any government agency to get the time.

Mark Glenn, a spokesman for Rice, said Rice decided to pull the political programs to be "fair" to the other candidates and that he did the same when he ran for lieutenant governor in 1992.

Before he became a candidate, Rice often appeared on his stations advocating the abolition of the death penalty and criticizing the state and federal government, saying more religious men were needed in the capitals.

The continued religious programming, the televangelist said, will consist mostly of reruns of his old services but will include some new material. In the shows, Rice delivers a sermon but to a camera rather than a congregation.

The stations--named the Here's Help Radio and TV Network, a divison of Rice's New Life Evangelistic Center--include 11 radio and eight TV outlets across the state. Most are low power, and all the TV stations are UHF in format.