FCC Proposes Adding Web Presence to Candidate Definition

The FCC seal
(Image credit: FCC)

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed to revise the definition of “legally qualified candidate for public office” to reflect the rise of the internet.

According to multiple sources, the FCC had been pondering whether to require broadcast stations to report network and syndicated political ad buys in their political files, something broadcasters were pushing back on, but that did not show up in the notice of proposed rulemaking released Thursday (July 15).

Acting FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel had signaled political file rule changes were coming.

The FCC, which released the NPRM on tweaks to its political rules, said it would add use of social media or the creation of a campaign website to the current list of activities that may be considered in determining if a write-in candidate has sufficiently established their candidacy.

That establishment determines whether broadcasters must provide the candidates with air time.

The commission is also proposing to adjust its rules to campaign finance reform legislation to reflect that stations, cable and satellite operators must report any purchase of ad time that “communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance” and make clear what record on that message must be maintained in a station's political file.

“While the agency has strived to update its guidance to reflect changes in law and campaign practices, it has not undertaken a formal review to update the political programming and record-keeping rules since 1991,” the FCC said. “Given the substantial growth of political media messaging in recent years, the updates proposed in this item are intended to conform our rules with statutory amendments, reflect existing practices and guidance, and account for modern campaign practices.”

The FCC in 2019 resolved a dozen campaign ad-disclosure complaints against various broadcast stations but with only some admonishments — official reprimands — rather than fines against what the FCC said were, in some cases, willful violations of its political file disclosure rules.

The new item is said to be an effort to clean up the rules and close some loopholes after complaints that the rules were not sufficiently clear.

The FCC put out some guidance following the resolution of the disclosure complaints, but broadcasters were not pleased with the result.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.