Equal time demanded by mayoral candidate

March 07, 1997


Staff Writer

Hagerstown mayoral candidate Joseph H. Walker wants as much air time on Antietam Cable Television as incumbent candidate Mayor Steven T. Sager.

But Sager said Friday the city's government channel could not be used for political purposes.

Sager, whose State of the City address will be aired on the station later this month, said he wouldn't use the government channel for campaigning.

"I think that would be wrong," Sager said.

"Ultimately it's the Council's decision" whether to allow political candidates to have air time on Channel 6, he said.

"Well, we'll have a bout with the City Council over that matter," Walker said after learning of Sager's comment.

Sager is scheduled to tape the State of the City address on Tuesday to be aired about five times during the next few weeks.


This is the first time the address will be aired on the government channel. Under the franchise agreement, the city is entitled to one free hour of production time a week, said Downtown Coordinator Karen Giffin.

Sager delivered his annual State of the City address at the Day's Inn last Tuesday morning as called for in the city's charter. Airing it on the government channel will give the public a chance to hear it in its entirety, he said.

Walker, 76, said he wants as much air time as Sager, whether or not he wins Tuesday's Republican primary for mayor. He is one of four Republican mayoral candidates, while Sager has one challenger in the Democratic primary.

He said he was willing to take the equal-time fight to court.

While city officials haven't set rules for the use of the channel, equal air time is not mandated under federal law in this situation, said Bobby Baker, chief of political programming for the Federal Communications Commission.

The equal time rule cannot be applied to Channel 6 because the cable operator doesn't have editorial control, Baker said. The rule doesn't apply to any public access, government or education channels.

Equal air time also doesn't apply to news programs, Baker said.

Baker said city officials could voluntarily allow candidates to have air time since they control the channel's programming.

The city charges Antietam Cable a franchise fee for allowing the company to operate in the city and use public right-of-ways for cable, said City Finance Director Al Martin.

The average cable customer, who subscribes to a standard basic service pays a franchise fee of 64 cents a month, said Gene Hager, Antietam Cable's general manager.

The city received $128,111 in franchise fees for the fiscal year ending June 30, Martin said. That money is used to support police, fire, parks and general street operations.

The Herald-Mail Articles