This weekend’s Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Donald Trump is raising controversy everywhere, but one area that hasn’t been much discussed is the Federal Communication Commission’s equal-time rule, which allows rivals to enjoy comparable, on-air time.
And though Trump’s appearance on SNL falls under the equal-time rule, it doesn’t mean that executive producer Lorne Michaels is required to offer fellow Republican presidential nominee hopefuls Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush some hosting time, as well.
Here’s the deal on the rule that is often misinterpreted because it’s just so complicated: the equal access rule applies only when an FCC-licensed broadcast station allows a candidate to appear on the air. After Saturday’s telecast of SNL, Trump’s opponents have seven days to ask for equal opportunity from NBC affiliates in states where they are legally recognized as a candidate and have campaigned heavily. Since it’s still early in the campaign, that really only applies to NBC stations in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Iowa.
Candidates can ask for the same amount of time that Trump enjoyed on SNL. But that also means whatever time they get will air on a Saturday night in those particular markets. If the stations deny the candidates equal time, they can bring it up to the FCC, which will work with both parties to determine where to go from there.
“I know in the culture it’s often called equal time,” University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication Professor William E. Lee told Pundict Fact. “But it’s really a misnomer.” For a more detailed analysis of the rule, check out this website.
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Of course, a political candidate on SNL is not unprecedented — the show is known for shocking its audience by featuring a buzzy politician. Just last month, the show Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton appeared in a sketch in which she mocked Trump.