Originally published: March 14, 2012
Last updated: April 4, 2012 - 11:47am
Broadcast stations have been required for decades to make political advertising information public -- although until now "public" meant putting papers into a file cabinet. Now broadcasters are upset about a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to put all such information online, where everyone, including other advertisers curious about real-world local TV ad rates, can see it.
In election years, political ads are a multibillion-dollar business for broadcasters. But they also bring their share of headaches for TV stations because of regulations that make the ads different from those for cars or beer. Congress decreed in 1971 that candidates must get the lowest price for ads in the weeks before an election. The Federal Communications Commission followed up by requiring that stations make political-ad information public so candidates can be assured they're all getting the same deal. The information goes into folders at station headquarters that also contain various government-mandated reports on indecency complaints, signal reach and the like. Broadcasters bear this paperwork burden because they have free use of broadcast spectrum, an FCC-regulated public resource.
In October, the FCC proposed that all public disclosures by broadcast stations, including the political ad rates, should be put online instead of kept at station offices in paper form. The FCC suggested stations could put the information on their own websites or submit it to the agency for posting in a single master database. Broadcasters are fuming. Lobbyists for ABC owner Walt Disney Co., Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal and News Corp ., owner of the Fox network, say it isn't fair to make them post ad rates when other recipients of political ad dollars, including cable television and websites, get a pass.
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