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more and more to the public interest. As a nation, we have no greater strength than an informed people, and we in broadcasting seek the opportunity of making a greater contribution to that strength. That is why we urge that the House and Senate permit their floor debates and major hearings to be open to television and radio coverage.
With regard to the second general question before you, I would like to present ABC's views on how spokesmen for Congress can gain direct access more readily to the broadcast media to present congressional viewpoints on major issues. We certainly recognize that adequately informing the public on issues of national policy requires giving exposure to the views of Members of Congress who are instrumental in shaping these policies.
We believe that ABC, in its coverage of national issues, has afforded opportunities for the presentation of a wide variety of contrasting views, including those of Members of Congress of both major parties. Crities, from time to time, take us to task for not granting Congress the opportunity to communicate on the same scale as the President, maintaining that these circumstances prevent Congress from fulfilling its coequal role under the Constitution.
The different nature of the executive and legislative branches of the Federal Government poses a real dilemma for a broadcast network. The executive usually speaks with one voice, that of the President. The legislative, by its composition, usually speaks with many voices.
We have dealt with this dilemma by examining Presidential addresses to determine whether our responsibility to inform the public on issues of national policy requires that we give exposure to differing congressional views. The question becomes how frequently a broadcast network should provide the congressional leadership its own forum for presentation of its views, over and above the presentation of representative and contrasting viewpoints on the particular issues in its network news and other programs. In that determination we are guided in large measure by prior rulings of the Federal Communications Commission and the courts. Under Democratic Presidents, the Republican National Committee asked for the right of response to specific Presidential addresses. Under President Nixon, the Democratic National Committee has sought to establish that right in several instances. In all cases where this question has been presented, the FCC and the courts have ruled in similar circumstances that there is no automatic right of response on a 1-to-1 basis with the President.
Nevertheless, as Leonard H. Goldenson, chairman of our board, indicated in his telegram to congressional leaders on August 17, 1970, and as Everett H. Erlick, ABC senior vice president and general counsel, amplified in his letter to Senator Mansfield on April 24, 1973, ABC shares a concern that the constitutional balance between the executive and legislative branches of the Federal Government be preserved with respect to access to the television medium.
[The material referred to appears in the Appendix on p. 661.] We made a proposal then, and we repeat the same proposal now for your consideration :
(1) ABC would make available 1 hour of prime time to the Congress at the beginning of each session to present a report on the “State of Congress.”
(2) The Senate and the House would permit television coverage of their sessions on a reasonable basis to present to the public coverage of debates on critical issues.
(3) ABC would make available 1 hour of prime time at the end of each session of Congress to present a report on the achievements of that session and the continuing important legislative problems.
(4) The offers of time would be made to the leaders of both Houses and ABC would expect that they would work out a mutually agreeable format as well as to select the spokesmen for the majority and minority in both Houses.
We know we are dealing with complex and difficult questions, but we believe this proposal could serve as the basis for an important first step. We would, of course, be willing to discuss any suggestions or modifications of our proposal which you may wish to offer. And please accept our assurance that we will continue to try to make a good faith effort to achieve for our audience a fair and balanced presentation of the major issues confronting this Nation as viewed by the Congress.
With regard to the third general question, as to additional facilities, if any, which may be required to provide Congress with a more adequate institutional capability in the area of mass communications. John Lynch, ABC News Washington Bureau Chief, will be available to answer your specific questions in this area as a member of the panel of Washington Bureau Chiefs scheduled to appear before you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present this statement. I will be happy to try to answer any questions that you and the members of the Joint Committee may have.
Chairman METCALF. We thank you very much.
While I have this thought on my mind, if the courts are responding to the particular statutes you mentioned, I do not think they are basing their decisions on the first amendment to the Constitution.
Maybe some of our inquiry should be as to whether there should be modification of those specific statutes as far as Congress is concerned.
I hope you will think about it, and maybe you will communicate with us if you think there should be statutory changes. Mr. Taylor suggested that he thought we would be fortunate if Senator Fulbright's bill would pass and expressed the hope we would amend section 315. Maybe there should be some changes and some modifications, and that too is an area in which this committee is interested and concerned.
My point is, it is just not enough to say the FCC did this or the courts did that. They have done these things, interpreting statutes that the Congress has enacted. We can change the statutes, and perhaps we should change some of them.
Mr. RULE. It could be.
Chairman METCALF. Thank you very much for appearing here, Mr. Rule, as a representative of a great national network.
I am certainly grateful for your statement, which is very helpful. I will hare some questions, but I will defer to Vice Chairman Brooks.
Representative BROOKS. Mr. Rule, we appreciate your coming down here today, and for your contributions to these hearings, and your consideration of this matter, and your willingness to have Mr. Lynch with us. Really we know the Washington people a lot more than we know the executive himself, and they do a good job here which is difficult, and I appreciate your awareness of the problem and your willingness to search for an answer.
I appreciate your being down here.
I thank Mr. Rule for his statement, and he has certainly responded to our questions, particularly to our first question about the institutional role of the Congress.
Without getting into a debate about it, I do think that you have taken as examples of coverage the McCarthy hearings and the Kefauver hearings, and hearings such as that, and conclude in this respect that the viewers better understood how Congress operates.
I think those particular hearings were the exception, not the rule, as to the general operation of Congress which consists of a great deal of day-to-day work, and which I admit would not be particularly newsworthy. But I still think there are some institutional functions of the body that have not been fully or even partially explained to the viewers.
You have heard my questions of Mr. Taylor, and I do not want to go over the same ground again. Perhaps your technical people will have more to say about it later in the day, but I am a little sorry that the only suggestion you had was to let the cameras in on the Senate and the House floors.
This is something I agree with, but I would be interested to know if your commentators have commented on the fact that the institution, the rules of the institution, did not permit that.
Mr. RULE. Congressman, I am not aware of that, but we will certainly answer that question and have it back to you.
I cannot answer that at the moment. I would have no position against such a thing on our part.
Representative CLEVELAND. I would also like to ask you—you can refine the information later for the record—I wonder if ABC has ever done an in-depth, comprehensive study of a particular piece of legislation.
I know the most dramatic thing is when we pass it on the floor of the House and the Senate, but a good deal goes into it before that, and I wondered if ABC has ever undertaken a study of some piece of legislation as it moves through the different committees and how it is amended, and the difference between a committee and a conference committee action. This is the type of thing, the institutional thing, that we want the public to know about, so they can better understand our role.
You could answer it now if you know the answer, or for the record later, if you would like to get the information.
Mr. RULE. I will get the information. I am not aware whether we have done that indepth or not to the extent that you are discussing.
Representative CLEVELAND. You understand the point I am making! Mr. RULE. Yes, I do.
Representative CLEVELAND. The distinction between the individuals and the institution?
Mr. RULE. Yes, I do, very clearly.
I find your testimony interesting, Mr. Rule. As one who has had some involvement with radio and television licensees, I am not as familiar as you, of course, but I am familiar with the blend of public service and entertainment and merchandising, which is all part of commercial television.
It seems to me from the standpoint of the networks we have multiple aspects from your standpoint of what the Congress, or what the Government is doing.
One is news coverage, and in connection with news coverage, I think that we are to stay as far away from telling you what should be done as you, I think, subject to general guidelines, leave your news people free to function as professionals.
I think they are entitled to comment, criticism, what have you, they have to hit a balance of what is newsworthy, and that may be not a 50–50 balance at all.
It may not be a balance between State and Federal, local and Federal, or anything else, and it seems to me our concern from the congressional standpoint ought not to be to intrude to what networks do.
When it gets beyond simple news coverage, and you get into the public service aspect of it, then there is a question of what we do.
It is public service that leads you to put the President on. I just do not quite think that every time the President comes on, automatically the Congress ought to come on, because if that happens, then why should not the judiciary come on.
What about all of those between the Congress and the President that disagree, or those within the Congress who disagree among themselves. In this I think you get into a real jungle, but I would join my colleagues, particularly my colleague from New England, that in the area of public service I think we are altogether wrapped up in the very important feature of having the public understand the institution, and I would hope you are concerned in those areas, beyond which your testimony alluded, to present Congress not just vis-a-vis the President's state of the Union address but which would also look at congressional achievements in the broadest, nonpartisan sense.
That has value, and I think you are making a contribution that is truly a public service, but have you considered one other thing—the concept of putting on public service educational programs to really get across to the public what it is their Government does.
I am not talking about glorifying any individual.
I am not talking about setting off the legislative against the executive, but I think one of the things that we in the Congress are concerned about is that our constituents, half a million people each from the House side or maybe multimillions on the Senate side, do not really understand what their Government is doing, and the things they do know about through television are often the spectacular and in that sense the atypical.
Have you from a policy standpoint given much consideration to that possibility ?
Mr. Rule. Not from a policy standpoint. We would have nothing in the world against doing exactly what you are saying, to enlighten, to inform, to indicate exactly what the institution is.
I think we would have to be very careful as to the method of presentation.
Where you say "do a program," that is not really what we were discussing when we offered the hour at the opening session of Congress and the hour at the closing session.
That was as a report, if you will, of the issues and measures to be taken up during the forthcoming session, and then at the closing, a report of really what had been accomplished during that session, but certainly there would be nothing to preclude informing, or presenting some sort of a forum in order to explain more fully the institutional workings of Congress.
Representative DELLENBACK. Well, then this is not a thing as a matter of policy? Mr. RULE. It has not been precluded as a matter of policy.
Representative DELLENBACK. As a matter of policy, you have not come close to determining that this is desirable, that this is desirable for ABC?
Mr. RULE. I do not believe that we have ever addressed ourselves to that specific thing.
The discussion of what the institution really is, certainly, as a matter of policy, there is no policy that would preclude us from doing such a
Representative DELLENBACK. If I may, and this can be of course washed from your mind when you leave, or it could be retained, as one member of this committee, I would urge you to give consideration to that.
You know, again, at least as well as I, when it comes to news, the ratings given deal with the size of the viewing audience, not with how well or how accurately the news coverage has been.
At the end of the year there may be special awards given the network for a given program for excellence of coverage, even this does not really rate coverage in the sense to which I refer to it here.
The rating is reflected in Nielsen, that is, what the public is actually viewing, so we recognize that those who put on such programs are, not always but often, influenced by what the public will react to, and does this get a high rating, are we outdoing NBC, are we outdoing CBS. What are we doing at relatively the 5 o'clock slot, 6 o'clock, what have you. What I am really suggesting is something that truly goes to public service, or beyond, both from the standpoint of explaining the institution which would be helpful for all of us, I am not concerned about any particular individuals involved, but also to explain what happens in the process of government.
I say this in part, as a suggestion and in part as an observation. I certainly do not say this is some veiled threat that Congress will enact some kind of legislation which will require this if you do not respond.
Mr. RULE. I will assure you that in a program, that ratings would be a very, very minor consideration in the presentation of such a forum. It would be almost nonexistent.