A group of broadcasters are formally asking the Federal Communications Commission to soften a new rule requiring TV stations to put political ad data on the Internet.
Washington attorneys for a group of twelve companies filed a petition for reconsideration of the rule, which was approved by the FCC in April and requires online disclosure about political ad purchases by campaigns and outside groups like super PACs. The information, which includes who buys ads, for how much, and when they run, is currently open to the public but is available only on paper at individual stations.
With the broadcasters’ petition yesterday, the FCC will now have to consider whether to modify the transparency measure. The rule isn’t expected to go into effect until this summer at the earliest and the petition shouldn’t change that timeframe.
The companies making yesterday’s request to water down the rule own TV stations and newspapers around the country. They are: Barrington Broadcasting Co., Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, Dispatch Broadcast Group, the E.W. Scripps Company, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, LIN Television Corporation, Meredith Broadcasting Group, Post-Newsweek Stations, Raycom Media, and Schurz Communications.
The argument advanced in the petition is one we heard earlier this year from broadcasters lobbying against the FCC disclosure rule: that making ad price information available online — even though it is already public on paper at stations — would hurt their business. The petition argues:
It is axiomatic that disclosure of price information is anti-competitive and disrupts markets — in this case, not only the local political advertising marketplace but also the local commercial advertising marketplace more generally, because stations’ political ad rates, by law, must be based on commercial advertising rates (and based on their most favorable rates during the political “windows”).
The FCC rejected this argument in its published April decision to put the political ad data online. The commission found that since the ad rate information has been available on paper for years, advertisers and station competitors already have access to it. The commission also concluded that the publication of rates on political ads would “not necessarily lead to marketplace distortions.”
The group of stations petitioning the FCC Monday also proposed an alternative to the new rule, one that is similar to a broadcaster proposal earlier this year. Under this scheme, stations would post online only aggregate information about money spent on ads, rather than the granular ad-by-ad information that the stations must maintain by law. The filing claims: “Our discussions with journalists confirm” that “journalists and scholars do not generally need or want spot-by-spot rate information.”
No such journalists or scholars are named.