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EDITORIAL: KCRG-TV9 does not endorse candidates with TV ads

From News Director Adam Carros
North Carolina television stations have pulled a Republican attack ad against Democratic U.S....
North Carolina television stations have pulled a Republican attack ad against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham off the air after his campaign said the ad was not truthful.(WITN)
Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 6:44 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - KCRG-TV9 does not endorse political candidates but you might see an ad or two that makes it look like we do.

In the past few days, at least two campaigns have used KCRG-TV9 images or staff in TV ads to promote their candidacy. A Sen. Joni Ernst ad uses a clip from one of our newscasts about an action she took in Washington, D.C. and one from Ashley Hinson, a former TV9 anchor, showcases images of her working here.

“Are you as a company supporting Ashley for Congress?” one viewer emailed asking me this week. “Allowing the ads where she shows your logo behind her and is wearing a KCRG jacket tells us, at my house, you back Ashley.”

That was one of several emails or phone calls I’ve responded to in recent days regarding the use of KCRG images and video in political ads. Most are appalled that a news outlet would support a candidate (we do not) but they all ask a similar form of this question: “If they don’t have the absolute right to use those, as a news organization, I would hope you would request they cease!”

We can ask, but legally, the campaigns have no reason to listen. Political campaigns do not need our permission to use these clips in their ads and there is almost nothing news outlets can do to stop them.

This all falls under copyright. As the creator of the material, in this case a newscast and logo, it belongs to KCRG. If someone uses our news footage or images without our permission, it is stealing and we can sue for violating the copyright.

Political ads are different. First, they are protected free speech. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Supreme Court has consistently sided with politicians who argue that the use of news clips in political ads is “fair use”. That is a nuanced exemption to copyright law that basically allows the use of copyrighted material as part of a new creation. Political ads, the argument goes, are transforming our work to illustrate the argument made in the ad. Because of that, political ads are free to use news media clips almost at-will to uplift their own reputation or tear down a rival.

“Refuse to air it.”

That’s another common argument I hear. First, we are not allowed to refuse ads from candidates. The FCC requires broadcasters make airtime available to candidates for office. They still have to pay for the airtime but the rule basically means we can’t refuse it to them because of the content of their ad, no matter what it shows or says.

More importantly, you do not want us refusing to air ads and we don’t want to do that either. Refusing to air an ad, particularly a political ad, because of the content is censorship. KCRG is firmly anti-censorship. It would need to be an extreme situation for us to break that sacred trust with our audience and not let them see something. Using a clip of a newscast we don’t like does not meet that threshold.

Bottom line, despite what you might see in an ad, KCRG-TV9 does not endorse any candidate for political office. Ever.

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