POLS STAY FRONT AND CENTER VIA (FREE) PSAs

Since nearly the beginning of radio, stations have used public service announcements (PSAs) ostensibly to provide the listening public with helpful, useful information. Now they are generally used for two purposes: To help fulfill the stations’ requirement that they broadcast in the public interest—theoretically, the public owns the airways and stations are simply licensed to use them; and to help fill time between paying advertisers’ spots or down time during talk shows.

But recently there seems to be a trend of politicians getting in on the PSAs in an apparent attempt to keep their names front and center without having to pay for political advertising. For instance, US Rep. Jim Himes can be heard on the tail end on of a PSA for “Going Green.” The spot urges folks to “go for a bike ride, recycle a can, change a light bulb.” It’s not clear what Himes adds to the spot other than to reiterate that people should “Go Green.”

Meanwhile, popular and up-and-coming US Rep. Chris Murphy can be heard in an anti-flu PSA urging people to cough into the bend of their elbow and to wash one’s hands frequently (didn’t we hear this from our president?). And of course, it has to be going on nearly a year now that Gov. Rell has been telling us how to navigate 911.

This is not to say these messages are not important or useful for the radio stations. WTIC-AM, whose public affairs programming is second to none in the region and possibly nationwide, uses all of the above PSAs in addition to a number of excellent shows such as Face Connecticut heard on Sunday mornings. It’s just a bit curious as to why the pols are so involved. [Full disclosure: The author of The Hanging Shad was the regular guest host on the Colin McEnroe show on WTIC-AM when there was one and when he was off].

In 1999, the state legislature passed a law prohibiting the use of public funds to pay for any ads featuring incumbent politicians—three months before an election for print ads or mailings; twelve months for any electronic media (the law was later amended to widened the types of prohibited media). The catalyst for law was the infamous “row boat” ad featuring then-Governor John Rowland and his wife rowing across a beautiful Connecticut lake urging people to come to Connecticut. The ad was paid for with state tourism funds. But the law covers only the use of public funds. Other PSAs such as the Himes spot that was paid for by the National Association of Broadcasters are fair game according to a legislative attorney.
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The Day’s crack reporter Ted Mann has done it again with a blistering blog entry about the Rell administration, Chief of Staff Lisa Moody and the flap over the use of $230,000 in taxpayers’ money to fund a study about streamlining state government but also apparently providing Rell with political advice. The study was done by UConn professor Ken Dautrich.

The affable and easy-going Mann recounts an email exchange between Moody and budget chief Robert L. Genuario. Writes Mann, “’OFA has asked for the Dautrich report,’ Genuario wrote to Moody on Tuesday, Jan. 27. OFA is the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the publicly supported agency that is charged with providing accurate budget numbers for legislators to use as they craft legislation. In theory at least, these two parties are supposed to talk to one another, in order to strike a budget deal. Here’s Moody’s entire response, sent the same day: ‘No rush in giving it.’”