NAB, MMTC counter MusicFirst at FCC


The NAB and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council have filed comments with the FCC in opposition to MusicFirst’s complaint about getting its ads run on radio stations. MMTC says that the problem with ads coming from MusicFirst in the Performance Rights Act controversy is broadcasters’ good faith belief that they are inherently misleading. NAB says MusicFirst’s petition is a public relations ploy in its entirety.

Both groups question the FCC’s authority to compel broadcasters to air any particular advertisement, or program for that matter. Broadcasters have always had broad discretion in determining which ads they will accept or refuse, and that right has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

MMTC noted that the problem lies with MusicFirst’s material, however. “Whether or not the Commission has the authority to direct broadcasters to air particular advertisements, we would caution that many broadcasters, in good faith, regard MusicFirst’s arguments as inherently misleading both because of what MusicFirst’s advertisements say and because of what they conspicuously do not say.”

In particular, there is no mention of MMTC’s estimate that a third of all minority broadcasters could be bankrupted by PRA, should it make it into law.

NAB pointed out that many of MusicFirst’s allegations fail to hold water. For example, charges of a radio boycott of PRA-supporting musicians are belied by one such supporter’s presence at the top of the Billboard airplay charts – twice. The reference is to of the Black Eyed Peas.

NAB also questions whether MusicFirst really wants to advertise, or whether it just wants to be able to complain about being denied. One of the top radio stations in Washington DC, Newser WTOP-FM, heard that MusicFirst was looking for airtime – and it has air that reaches members of Congress and their staffs, as sweet a target audience as MusicFirst could hope for. It offered the group the same exact terms recently contracted with the NAB for advertising on the same topic, and MusicFirst turned the station down flat.

That said, NAB notes that CBS provided prime broadcast air time to many artists who chose to express their views during the 2008 Grammy Awards program.

NAB summed up, “MusicFIRST, a front-group financially supported by the RIAA, alleged earlier this summer that NAB and broadcasters nationwide were engaged in a ‘campaign’ to use ‘threats’ and ‘intimidation’ against artists, while simultaneously refusing to air paid political advertisements supporting RIAA’s position regarding the pending legislation in Washington. The MusicFIRST petition, NAB told the FCC, ‘employs style rather than substance and invective rather than evidence.’

RBR/TVBR observation: Leaving aside the merits of this case for the moment, we cannot remember any instance where the FCC stepped in and forced a station to air any particular thing other than an emergency broadcast alert – because it is expressly not in the broadcast content business.

MusicFirst might just as well have taken this case to the local department of motor vehicles – at least it would still be able to hear many of its members getting valuable and cost-free promotional exposure over the radio during the ride to that venue.