FCC Waives TV, Radio Ad Disclosure Rules for COVID-19 PSAs

The FCC has waived its advertising disclosure rules for COVID-19 public service announcements using donated commercial ad time.

Ordinarily, a TV spot has to include a disclosure of who paid for the time per FCC rules. But with businesses shuttered, events canceled and social distancing, many advertisers can no longer use the commercial time they have already bought from TV and radio stations and are instead donating it to use for public service announcements.

Those PSAs display the name of the CDC or other public health authority, not the original ad time purchaser, so could run afoul of the rule that require broadcasters to disclose who bought the time.

"In this particular instance, however, where the time is being donated for the broadcast of PSAs related to the COVID-19 pandemic by the CDC, other governmental entities, or public health authorities, such a disclosure requirement might undercut the reliability of these PSAs, which are providing essential information, often from an entity charged with tracking and limiting the spread of disease," said the FCC's Media Bureau in explaining the waiver. "Moreover, requiring that the name or corporate logo of the commercial entity that originally purchased the airtime be included in the PSA might discourage the donation of beneficial advertising time, as commercial entities might not wish to have their names or corporate logos directly associated with the provision of information about COVID-19 for fear of a negative association by consumers."

The FCC has the discretion to waive the requirement if it thinks that would be in the public interest. The Media Bureau said that is the case. "The use of such donated advertising time could allow for the broadcast of numerous additional PSAs to the community during this national emergency and provide life-saving information to the public," it said.

The waiver extends to June 30, 2020, after which it will be reevaluated. 

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.