Journalism in the Public Interest


Broadcasters Make Emergency Motion to Block Transparency Rule

The National Association of Broadcasters, an industry group representing television stations around the country, is asking a court to block the implementation of a new rule that will put political ad information online before it goes into effect next month.

The National Association of Broadcasters, an industry group representing television stations around the country, is asking a court to block the implementation of a new rule that will put political ad information online before it goes into effect next month.

The Federal Communications Commission announced last week that the rule will go into effect Aug. 2. It will require affiliates of the four major networks in the nation’s top 50 markets to post on a new website data about who is buying political ads and how much they are paying, among other information. The data is expected to help shed light on dark money spending by outside groups as well as spending by campaigns. The information is already public but is only available on paper at stations.

In a motion filed Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the broadcasters’ trade group said that if the new FCC rule goes into effect, broadcasters “will suffer irreparable harm … because the [rule] compels television stations to post the prices for specific advertisements to a public website immediately after the sales occur.” The motion also argues that the FCC has “engaged in arbitrary and capricious decisionmaking by disregarding the competitive harm that is likely to result.”

The broadcasters have been fighting the new rule for the better part of a year, first mounting an aggressive lobbying effort before the FCC vote in April, then suing in May after the rule was passed, and now making an emergency request for a stay.

As we’ve previously noted, the commission is not requiring the files to be uploaded in a single format, which will make searching and analyzing the information a challenge.

The FCC said last week that it would “soon schedule user testing and educational webinars … to ensure that the uploading of materials by broadcasters can be conducted smoothly and efficiently.”

“competitive harm that is likely to result”

Yes, of course.  The labeling of goods and services with prices collapsed the retail industry decades ago.  My barber just rocks himself in the corner, too, because of the ungodly board explaining how much it costs to get a haircut.  Capitalism will crumble without secret pricing schemes.  Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!

It’s possible I don’t actually know what “competition” is, though.  It’s a color, right?  “That car is a lovely competitive shade,” right?

Broadcasters are corporations regulated by the USELESS FCC.  They want their profits like any corporations above all else.  They stole the public bandwidth from the public and are using it to support their status quo. They must be really regulated.  They must give free air time to all candidates and issues.  This is pivotal to the survival of our nation.

broadcasters, using airwaves provided them at no real cost by the government, are complaining that rules set by the government to help with transparency are anti-competitive.  The whole premise of broadcast industry as a capitalist endeavor is counter-intuitive to begin with.  They should be told to pound sand.

Catherine Morency

July 12, 2012, 10:18 a.m.

I agree with T. Ganski.

T Ganski is spot it—these are OUR airwaves.  Well, they used to be our candidates and our election, too—back when we were a democracy, not a plutocracy.

Gee, I wonder if the fear is that public knowledge about who pays for ads might reveal a certain media bias?  Or, perhaps, more likely, that the REAL bias is pro-big $ and against the other 99%.  How can media be expected to perpetuate the two-party, representative democracy illusion with all this transparency?

“Network” is more and more true every day.

Just to clarify, these are broadcasters that depend on, for instance, journalism?  News?  Provision of information?

Yes, some of them play music, but most if not all also provide a “news” service.  That argues for openness.  That complains about government secrecy.

Pot, meet kettle.

The broadcasters already provide this information at their stations in paper format.  Does posting this information online make it more transparent?  No. It makes the information easier and faster to access. Let’s not confuse transparency and ease of access.  In TV Broadcasting alone, NBC has 202 affiliate stations over 50 states; ABC, 223; CBS, 232; and Fox, 200. The task of gathering all of the ad buys information for these affiliates is a monumental task for one individual, even one news organization. Is this a step in the right direction?  Yes, but will it not have much of an impact? What is the public going to do with this information?  Are people going to protest because a FOX affiliate in Pocatello, Idaho sells ad time to Citizens for a Sound Economy? Or are we, the people, going to accept this as the price of watching ‘So You Think You Can Dance’? I know, I know, I’m a cynic.

If anything, the information will be more useful to the campaigns.  Gaining access to this information quickly and quietly gives the campaigns and those who fund the 501(c)3’s and lobbying groups greater leverage in pricing negotiations with affiliates. These groups will be able to more accurately measure the costs and benefits of running an ad on FOX vs NBC in Macon, GA on a Tuesday night.  The pace and frequency of changes in ad buys during the election season will only increase if this rule is upheld, which is a symptom of the problem.  Are the messages going to get drowned out and jumbled around? Yes. Do I have a solution for this problem? Not as it relates to this minor rule in an otherwise mind numbing election process.

I think this is a great rule.  I know the information is already available publicly IF you are able to travel to the local station and view the files.  That’s a problem for many of us who do research on these kinds of issues.  My local television stations are anywhere from 20 to 60 miles away from my university…in different directions!  Having the information available on the web will allow researchers easier access to see who is spending what in an attempt to influence the outcome of American elections, at least in the 50 major markets subject to the rule. 

As far as I am aware there is no aggregate requirement in the rule, so stations need not compile data from other affiliates, only what is purchased directly from the local affiliate.  Am I wrong about that?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Free the Files

Free the Files

Outside groups are spending hundreds of millions to influence the coming elections. Help unlock outside spending by "freeing" political ad buys from television stations in swing markets.

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