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Stay Tuned

This year, at long last, an all-time favorite of campaign reformers - free TV time for candidates - will come into your living room. If you choose to watch.

Ten one-minute segments dubbed "Voices of the People" will be aired by the Fox network beginning next week. The micro-mini series will give candidates Dole and Clinton (and Perot, if he qualifies for the coming televised debates) a chance to respond to questions on the public's mind (as compiled by a Fox-sponsored poll).

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Fox may have competition, since the other networks have been vying to come up with their own version of free candidate time ever since Fox chief Rupert Murdoch announced his plan back in February. The leaders of a public-interest group called the Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition have been meeting with broadcasters to work out an industry-wide plan.

We might even see a proliferation of one- or two-minute spots, candidates' time on the evening news or on shows like NBC's "Dateline," and hour-long election-eve specials. All of it without further driving up the cost of attaining high office.

It would be all too easy to get cynical at this point and say only the most politics-hungry viewers will stay tuned for these public-spirited offerings.

We prefer, however, to think of this as a multifaceted opportunity - for citizens to assess their would-be leaders, for candidates to craft an interesting message, and for commercial TV to show some civic responsibility - that Americans wouldn't want to miss.

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