FCC votes to require online disclosure of political ad spending


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The Federal Communications Commission voted on Friday to require local television stations to put detailed information about political advertising including the cost of specific commercials on their websites.

While such material is already required to be made available to the public, anyone seeking to know how much candidates are spending and on what programs typically has to visit a local television station and make a request to see what’s known as the ‘public files.’


FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had pushed hard for this requirement, which had failed to pass the first time the FCC advocated it several years ago. He called it a ‘common sense’ move.

But broadcasters fought against certain parts of the new rule. While having no problem with posting political ad spending by candidates and campaigns in the aggregate, they balked at having to include specific rates for individual advertisements.

They fear that will make confidential information available to commercial advertisers as well as rival stations. Even though said information was already available, the general consensus in the industry is that advertisers rarely took the initiative to go on a fact-finding mission. Now, though, the same information will be available at the click of a button.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters, the primary lobbying arm of the television industry, said in a statement that the new rule ‘jeopardizes the competitive standing of stations.’

Broadcasters are also peeved that the new rules won’t apply to cable or other media platforms.

Under the rules passed by the FCC, initally only ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox television stations in the top 50 markets will have to put the political files online. Starting in 2014, all TV stations will be required to post the files.

Media watchdogs and public policy groups cheered the decision.

“Television broadcasters stand to rake in more than $3 billion in political ads this year,’ said Corie Wright, senior policy counsel for Free Press, a nonprofit media watchdog. ‘Access to information about the money and special interests behind these ads will enable the public and journalists to track the political advertising flooding the airwaves.’

The FCC did say it would review its decision in a year to see if broadcasters have suffered any financial damage from the enhanced disclosure of political spending.

Political advertising information isn’t the only thing broadcasters will be putting online. The FCC also said most other public file documents are to be moved to the Web -- from records regarding their children’s programming efforts to those regarding public affairs programming.


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-- Joe Flint