Music by candidates for office (during an election)

Hello everyone,

I think I know the answer to this one already, but ...
Ontario is holding municipal elections on October 22, and the election period is currently underway. Here in Guelph, the well-known singer-songwriter James Gordon ( is seeking re-election as a city councillor.
We've already pulled a James Gordon station ID from rotation, but I'm wondering if we would also need to place a ban on his music during the election period (on the logic that playing his music over the community airwaves would give him publicity / an unfair advantage over his competitors).
The relevant CRTC wording on the matter is as follows:

On-air personalities as candidates

On-air personalities are people who are seen or heard on radio, TV or community programming channels. Even if the person's voice is only heard as a commercial announcer, that person is still considered to be an on-air personality.

If an on-air personality becomes a candidate in a provincial or federal political election, his/her on-air duties must stop:

  • as soon as his/her candidacy is announced
  • OR
  • once the election is officially called, whichever is later

The election policy states that broadcasters must provide equitable access to all political candidates.  In the case of a municipal election, equitable coverage does not formally begin until two months before the date of the election. This policy also applies to federal, provincial and municipal referenda.

In these cases, on-air personalities who become candidates must go off the air. On-air personalities enjoy unique public exposure, and broadcasters aren't able to offer other candidates similar on-air opportunities.


Just my opinion (so carefully take it as so): no, unless the music was specifically created as an act for the station.

To give an illustrative, absurd (American!) example: they wouldn't (have to) pull Arnold Swartzneggar movies off of TV if he ran for president.

If anything, the music becomes even more relevant, as it is a demonstration of past performance of the person's character. By the very nature of their profession, they would perhaps enjoy additional exposure, but not as a special arrangement with the station.
Now, if the candidate is producing a program that is currently on, that's a bit clearer: pull it.
If the program is in syndication or repeats.. not sure about that.
If a program features the candidate as a guest, it seems unlikely to need to be pulled. As an example, we had a repeat of an episode of a show which featured an interview with a candidate in their role as sitting representative, and since it was recorded well before any explicit nomination was made (although one could presume they'd seek re-election...), I felt no worries playing the interview, especially because it was not about the election (although a politically-relevant topic; homelessness and housing support, in this case).

I currently have two questions about elections that I have contacted the single point of contact at the crtc.

One is the question of whether I can play repeats of the show the candidate used to run. Or failing that, interviews that they did in the past as part of the show hosted by others (the show is not at all about politics btw). Essentially is "on-air" defined as "live" or "at all".
The second has to do with the current council voting to continue cable broadcasting of council meetings during the election period. 4 out of 8 councillors are running again. Seems like an advantage to those incumbents to me.

My opinion is that the music is probably fine and does not fall within the restrictions on on-air personalities, as long as it's played just like any other artist without any special fanfare or commentary.  (That's assuming it's music he created not in contemplation of running for political office.  If it was created specially to advertise his candidacy, that would be a different issue.)

Also, if the music is extremely distinctive and likely to call significant attention to the candidate, then I would consider banning it during the election period.  And if the show hosts are going to use playing the music as an opportunity to discuss or promote his candidacy, then you'd need to either ban the music or take steps to ensure equitable access for other candidates as well.

As for repeats of older programs featuring an interview with someone who is now a candidate, or featuring the candidate as host, my opinion is that they should not be broadcast because they're contrary to the restrictions on on-air personalities.  The idea is not to give their voice prominence on the air over other candidates.  It doesn't matter when the material is produced (live or in the past) or the subject matter or context of the program.

Responding to one specific point in Mark's email, I'll note that Arnold Schwarzenegger's film actually *were* pulled from network TV at least during his first gubernatorial run, on the basis of the FCC's equal time provision.

Schwarzenegger bids 'hasta la vista' to TV films.

By Sue Zeidler
546 words
13 August 2003

LOS ANGELES, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Arnold Schwarzenegger, the candidate, has arrived, but his "Terminator" persona will likely have to say "hasta la vista, baby," to broadcast television while he runs for governor of California.

Once the Republican actor is formally certified in the recall election set for Oct. 7, federal rules requiring local TV stations to provide equal air time to all candidates free of charge will apply to Schwarzenegger movies.

If theatricals like "The Terminator," "Total Recall" or even "Kindergarten Cop" air on TV, all of the nearly 250 other opponents could demand the same amount of time for free.

Officials for television networks NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox all said they had no plans to broadcast any Schwarzenegger films on their networks in the near future.

Schwarzenegger advisers told reporters at a recent press conference that the Federal Communications Commission rules were in effect.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and senior scholar at the University of Southern California, said there was a reason Schwarzenegger's campaign made a point of reminding the media of the equal-time rules.

"Everybody knows Arnold for what he is, but my sense is that they're a little bit shy about reminding people of that image in the throes of a campaign in which he's trying to come across as a valid candidate for governor," she said.

"I also think it may well have to do with the fact that they don't want anybody else to be able to demand time from the television station for free," Jeffe added.

The rules on political broadcasting are intended to provide an element of fairness for candidate appearances and have created interesting dilemmas in previous races.

Actor George Takei - who played Mr. Sulu on "Star Trek" - said rules requiring equal TV time to all candidates worked against him when he ran for the Los Angeles City Council in 1973.

In a recent interview with Reuters, he said a local station ran an episode of "Star Trek" during his campaign. He was on air for 17 minutes, prompting each of his 14 opponents to claim equal time. The station had to dedicate an entire evening to airing the other candidates.

However, cable TV industry executives were scratching their heads on exactly how to proceed because, they said, the rules in that arena were less clear.

Cable TV networks like HBO and TNT that provide programs are exempt, while cable TV operators - companies such as Cox Communications Inc. - which deliver the channels to homes appear not to be, industry executives said.

"Across the broadcast and cable industry, a lot of people are looking at it. I think that it would behoove us to try not to do any Arnold (movie) marathons because it may beg a competitor to file a complaint that its unfair," said one cable executive who asked to remain anonymous.

Still, several cable operators on Tuesday said they understood that they were exempt from the FCC equal time rules.

"Cable and broadcast are not under the same rules. We are not required to block out any signals if it is coming from one of our programming partners," said Bobby Amirshahi, a spokesman for Cox.


Perhaps in the case of a song / music which was recorded by a candidate it would be fun to be able to say to other candidates "We'd be happy to give you equal airtime as we've given to this candidate's song(s), but in the pursuit of an even /level playing field we're going to have to insist that you sing and play an instrument during your airtime just as he/she did."

I'm sure there would be legal reasons why we would not be able to do reply like that, but if we could it might make for some fun / unique additions to the music library!  And it would likely qualify as CanCon too!

The reply I got from the Single Point of Contact at the CRTC confirmed what Freya said about older programs with the candidate as host. Interesting comments at the end as far as "jurisdictional intersections" (if that is the right term for it).


As per you request, please find below the responses with respect to your election-related questions:

1) Commission staff is of the view that CHLY-FM must not broadcast previously-aired shows featuring a recently announced candidate who is an on-air personality.

The policy underlying the Guidelines is to ensure equitable coverage in political programming. In respect of on-air personalities, who enjoy unique public exposure, allowing them to remain on air during the election period would give them an advantage over other candidates or parties.

Whether a person would be considered an on-air personality is determined in context on a case by case basis.  For instance, an employee or a volunteer of the station with on-air exposure such as a commercial announcer, or someone who has a regular or recurring appearance would likely be considered an on-air personality. If the candidate is an on-air personality, broadcasting previously-aired shows featuring that candidate would appear to contravene the Guidelines even if the shows date back several years and are free from any political content or allusions. Therefore, in order to ensure equitable coverage broadcasters should not broadcast the previously-aired shows during the election period.

Please keep in mind that, according to the Guidelines, in addition to ensuring on-air personalities are removed from those duties during election periods, licensees have equitable coverage obligations towards all candidates and accredited registered parties.

2) Considering that the content of City Council meetings ought to be of a non-partisan political character and continues to be of interest to citizens during the election period, Commission staff is of the view that nothing in the Guidelines or Radio Regulations, 1986 requires Shaw to stop broadcasting City Council meetings during the election period.

Having said that, Commission staff notes that municipalities fall under provincial jurisdiction. Accordingly, there may be provincial laws that apply which are out of the scope of the Commission’s jurisdiction. Therefore, Commission staff suggest that you seek advice relating to matters of provincial jurisdiction from officials or legal counsel acting in respect of your province.

Please keep in mind that section 3 of the Broadcasting Act requires that “the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.”

How about a station employee being on air and running for public office?


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We currently have a station volunteer who is running for council…he has been suspended until after the election is over.

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