>> Variety / TV News
FCC passes online political ad rule
Stations will be required to post campaign spending info
By: Ted Johnson
Posted On: Apr. 27, 2012
The FCC will require that broadcasters post detailed information about campaigns' political ad buying online, after a majority of commissioners on Friday passed a move designed to boost transparency with the bonanza of dollars flowing to TV stations.
Stations already are required to give public access to the files, but the FCC's move will force stations to upload that information to a central FCC database.
Broadcasters will not be required to upload existing materials in the files to the site, but information about political ad buys going forward. For the next two years, only the top four network affiliates in the top 50 markets will be required to post, with the rest of the stations given until July 1, 2014 to do so.
Stations objected to the new rule, arguing that even though they already must disclose it, posting it online would give competitors access to commercially sensitive rate information. Broadcasters had proposed a compromise to instead post a campaign's total ad buy, rather than specific information on the rate. Stations are required to sell candidates time at the lowest unit rate.
But FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said that because the information already is available, albeit with some hassle, competitors already would have exploited it if they found it so valuable. He said what was at stake was whether the information would be "stuck in filing cabinets of stuck online." Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also supported the new rule, pointing out that the FCC staff had included a "sensible, prudent and measured way to proceed," citing a provision that requires the FCC to review and take comment next year on how it is working.
Commissioner Robert McDowell voted against the new rule, but he supported other efforts to post online the rest of a station's public file, including information on equal opportunity employment hiring and children's television.
He even suggested that the readily available rate information would raise antitrust issues, as stations could easily share that information.
"By forcing broadcasters to do what would otherwise be illegal is simply surreal," he said. He also objected because radio stations and other media do not have the same requirements.
The National Assn. of Broadcasters, which opposed the rule, said that the FCC "jeopardizes the competitive standing of stations." Spokesman Dennis Wharton said they would be seeking guidance from the NAB's board "regarding our options."