FCC’s Proposed Election Ad Disclosure Rule Draws NAB Ire

FCC’s Proposed Election Ad Disclosure Rule Draws NAB Ire

With the 2012 election cycle predicted to set spending records, the Federal Communications Commission is proposing requiring television stations post online information about who will be behind those ads online. However, the National Association of Broadcasters has expressed concerns to the FCC that the new proposal would be burdensome.

In a press release, the FCC said its proposal is an effort to increase transparency. Documents would have to be submitted to an online public file hosted by the FCC. The proposal replaces a decades-old requirement that TV stations maintain paper files for public inspection at their main studio.

The NAB estimates the FCC proposal for online posting requirements would create an increased burden of 21.5 hours of employee time per station per week. The NAB said the FCC’s estimate of only 2.1 hours per station per week is “radically understated.”

According to the NAB, the FCC rules would require each television station to compile and provide “extraordinary detailed information” regarding each program segment aired as well as how the TV station “determined the programming needs of its community” and “designed responsive programming.”

Little Time or Resources
Advocates for government transparency are in favor of the changes.

“It sounds like a great idea to me,” said Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org, which monitors the accuracy of political speech. “This information has been public mostly in theory only. Very few have the time and resources to spend going to stations to review paper records.”

Lisa Rosenberg, a lobbyist for the Sunlight Foundation – a nonprofit that uses the Internet to advocate for greater government transparency – is also in favor of the FCC proposal.

“A searchable FCC database of ad buys would not only enable the public to go directly to the FCC’s Web site to ascertain who is behind the nasty, misleading political ad that just interrupted their enjoyment of Dancing with the Stars, but would allow for re-use of the data and in-depth analysis by local journalists, scholars, and others who could analyze whether the ad money being spent on races in Kansas is coming from New York, whether more money is being spent by outside groups than the candidates themselves, and where races are heating up as determined by spending,” Rosenberg wrote in her Oct. 27 blog.

‘A Significant Challenge’
“The NAB believes that developing a system of uploading, organizing, and ensuring timely online access to the political file presents a significant challenge,” NAB Senior Deputy General Counsel Jerianne Timmerman wrote in a letter to the FCC.

The NAB came to that conclusion after it worked with some TV stations to gather the information required for a one-week test period.

There is also concern by the NAB that the political file must be frequently updated during periods that are close to elections when TV news stations are very hectic.

Timmerman wrote the NAB was also concerned about the “potential burdens” on licenses and First Amendment issues that could be raised by new FCC regulations.

“We cited the complexity of the legal issues raised by such proposals, the significant fact-gathering required to craft a reporting mechanism that is not unduly burdensome for broadcast licensees, and the need to analyze what form of reporting would be likely to yield public interest benefits,” Timmerman wrote.

The FCC adopted the item Oct. 27. Once it is published in the Federal Register, there is 30 days to comment. FCC Spokesman Janice Wise said there was no timeframe for issuing a report and order.

Tom Gantert (gantert@mackinac.org) is senior capitol correspondent for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.