After several allegations of voter intimidation during this year’s presidential race, politicians and other state activists have asked media organizations to help resolve the problem. Recently, billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin, key swing states, were taken down after local advocates claimed they were aimed to intimidate voters in predominately Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
In an interview with Cleveland.com, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner criticized the billboards as an inexplicit form of racism. “I don’t recall seeing any signs up like this pre-election of President Obama, and I certainly didn’t see any signs like this eight years ago or twelve years ago,” says Turner.
The ads were placed on billboards owned by Clear Channel Communications, which in 2006 was partly acquired by Bain Capital Partners, Mitt Romney’s former employer. According to NPR, the billboards violated Clear Channel’s advertising policy which does not allow anonymously placed political ads. The company claims the billboards were mistakenly put up due to a faulty contract, however the name of the unidentified “Private Family Foundation” behind the ads remains unknown.
Last week, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who now heads Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, called on the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to help fight attempts to intimidate voters and suppress voter turnout. Copps asked broadcasters to inform citizens of their voting rights using public service announcements (PSAs), and to also increase coverage of state and local elections.
“I ask that you encourage NAB’s members to use this final stretch of the campaign to run [PSAs] – during prime-time viewing hours whenever possible – to more fully explain voters’ rights in their states and communities of service,” wrote Copps in a letter to NAB President and CEO, Gordon Smith.
Now that Election Day is on the horizon, major networks are preparing an onslaught of political ads for both presidential candidates, making public interest groups eager to get their message on voter education out over airwaves – and out fast. It’s a job that Copps believes can improve.
“I know that many broadcasters are working hard to inform their communities and to discharge their public interest responsibilities, and I continue to salute those that are doing so,” wrote Copps.
“But not all stations perform at such levels of excellence.”
NAB has not yet released a public response to Copps letter.