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Broadcasters Unite Over Political File Counter-Proposal

Broadcasters Friday presented a united front on a compromise proposal to post political ad info online.

According to a filing at the FCC, the National Association of Broadcasters, the stations groups owned by ABC, CBS, NBC, Univision and Fox joined with TV station groups that had proposed the compromise and a number of state broadcaster associations to present the proposal (see below) before the sunshine period triggered for the planned April 27 vote on online disclosure of TV station public files, including political files.

Station groups pitching a compromise had indicated more groups might be willing to sign up.

The unified broadcaster proposal includes a schedule for updating the information. The broadcasters say they are OK with phasing in the requirement by starting with about 200 stations in the top markets, as the FCC has proposed to help test it.

"This proposal is a win-win solution that provides transparency concerning political candidate spending while avoiding the anti-competitive impact of online disclosure of per-spot rate information," the broadcasters said in the letter. "Our proposal represents a common ground among us in an effort to provide the Commission with a specific proposal before the Sunshine Period goes into effect, but we would be willing to discuss questions or minor adjustments to this proposal with the Commission if it wishes to do so."

The sunshine period is the week before a public meeting vote, when stakeholder meetings with commissioners about an agenda item must cease.

The FCC plans to vote on a broader disclosure item that will have broadcasters in those top markets begin posting their public files online, though it will not expand any of those currently paper-file reporting requirements. Broadcasters were concerned that the FCC would follow up on its proposal to include more detailed programming lists, but that is not happening, at least not in this order, according to FCC officials.

Following is the "consensus" political file proposal.

"Television stations would upload to the FCC's website the following information about candidate purchases and about ‘BCRA issue ads' (i.e., those that communicate a message relating to a political matter of national importance, per 315(e)(1)(B) of the Communications Act), in a format of the station's own choosing that takes into account the technology used in its operations:

  • the name of the sponsor;
  • the name of the candidate on whose behalf the political spots (or program material) were purchased (for candidate purchases);
  • the office for which the candidate is running (for candidate purchases);
  • the issue to which the communication refers (for BCRA issue ads);
  • the entity that sponsored the spots (or program material), including the officers that it has identified;
  • the name given to the spot by the sponsor (if and to the extent that a sponsor provides such a name);
  • the total amount of the ad buy; and
  • on an ongoing basis, the aggregate amount of money paid by the sponsor for spots (or program material) on the television station during the election window.

Television stations would update the online political file with the following frequency:

  • Generally, every other day, during the lowest unit charge period.
  • Every day during the last seven days before the election.
  • Outside the lowest unit charge period, once a week."