The FCC’s requirement that television stations put political advertising information online has one general election under its belt, and the FCC has two opportunities to reconsider the rules. NAB has asked the DC Circuit to put its challenge of the rules on ice until the regulatory review process has a chance to run its course.
The FCC requirement applied to only big four affiliates in the top 50 DMAs in the trial run, affecting some 200 stations. They were required to post everything pertaining to political ad buys in their online public file.
The NAB made a counter offer under which television stations would post the amount spent by each political campaign or PAC, but omit the piles of paperwork that go into the buys.
This would benefit stations by allowing them to avoid posting sensitive advertising rate information online where it can be used by their competitors.
NAB contends it would also improve the usefulness of the data for the watchdogs, journalists and other interested parties that want to follow political advertising expenditures in real time during the run up to the election.
An attempt by the NAB to stay the implementation of the FCC rule failed. However, the FCC promised that after the trial run, it would open a window for a hearing and a notice-and-comment period to reconsider the rules. Additionally, NAB has filed a petition for reconsideration.
NAB asked the court that its challenge of the rule be held in abeyance until the FCC review is completed. It noted that the FCC itself was aware that the new rules might very well require review when it promised to do so in the first place; it further noted that its request to hold the case in abeyance is unopposed, and further noted that counsel for the FCC and the United States have given permission to the NAB to state that they do not intend to file any motions on the topic.
RBR-TVBR observation: It is our firm belief, not as advocates for broadcasters, but as journalists, that the NAB proposal makes sense for all parties – stakeholders, regulators, watchdogs and citizens alike.
When the files went first went online, watchdog Free Press excitedly mobilized its forces to track top 50 DMA spending. To the best of our knowledge, the utter complexity of the fully-loaded files proved to be a huge roadblock, and very little useful information came out of the project during the election.
Another watchdog complained about how useless the information was, with its lack of standardization, bad penmanship, etc., etc., etc.
If a watchdog could go to a television station’s political file and see that Candidate John Q. Public spend $250 on six spots during the first full week of October, and that Citizens for Brighter Dog Tags spent $88 on two spots on behalf of candidate Jane Doe during that same week, the tallying and reporting process for that watchdog becomes eminently manageable, and the public is informed in real time about what is going on.
One note to head off what we see as a potential counter argument. Some might say a television station could skew their weekly political spending report for whatever reason. We see no particular reason for this to happen, but if it does, the underlying data will still be available on paper in the station’s in-house public file, so any station that falsifies its online report would be in serious danger of exposure.
The NAB suggestion makes perfect sense for every single interested party, and every single party, with the FCC and watchdog community leading the way, should embrace it with open arms.