National Rifle Association to Debut Controversial Radio Program

In a challenge to federal limits on political advocacy, the National Rifle Association will begin broadcasting "NRANews," a daily, three-hour program, to 400,000 listeners via Sirius satellite radio, the New York Times reports.

According to the NRA, the move into broadcasting means it should be viewed as a media organization that does not have to abide by provisions of a campaign finance law passed in 2002. That law forbids advocacy organizations from using unregulated "soft" money to buy political advertising which directly attacks or praises federal candidates in the weeks before primaries and elections. But the law exempts media companies, which are allowed to report on, analyze, and even endorse candidates for federal office. After an exhaustive analysis by its attorneys, the NRA determined it would qualify for the media exemption once it began to broadcast its program. "The great thing about America is there is no test about the right to provide information to the American public," said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. "There is no government licensing of journalists. Tom Paine was free to pamphlet. So are we."

According to LaPierre, the organization, which already operates a news-oriented Web site, NRANews.com, and publishes magazines that reach its nearly 4 million members, is looking to acquire radio stations in the Midwest, the Rockies, and the South. But gun-control opponents of the NRA questioned whether it had the money to build such a network, noting that similar plans had fizzled in the past.

"I think they are really just trying to show the Republicans that they are going to be able to do something at election time," said Robert A. Ricker, a former gun industry lobbyist who now consults for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "It's a lot of hype, but I don't think there will be substantial content."

Still, Bob Bauer, a Democratic expert on election law, said the NRA's claim to a media exemption would almost certainly be challenged. "It smells like, and it looks like, a complete circumvention of the law," Bauer told the Times.

James Dao. "Gun Group's Radio Show Tests Limits on Advocacy." New York Times 06/16/2004.