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FCC Will Apply Reasonableness Standard to Station Political File Disclosure Decisions

The FCC said it will, indeed, apply a "standard of reasonableness and good faith decisionmaking" to broadcasters when it comes to deciding what political ads trigger disclosure requirements, and that the disclosure requirement clarification applies only to issue ads.

That came in a response to a request that it reconsider its Political File Order.

Related: State Associations Call Political Ad Guidance 'Unconsionable'

NAB joined with Hearst Television, Graham Media Group, Nexstar, Fox, Tegna and Scripps to ask the FCC to clarify its political ad rules clarification and give them that reasonableness standard given that deciding what to disclose for what ad left room for interpretation.

The FCC issued the guidance as part of the resolution of complaints about TV station political ad disclosures, or the lack of them. The FCC admonished the stations and issued the guidance.

Related: Network Affils: FCC Political Ad 'Clarification' Is Failure on All Counts

In resolving the reconsideration petition, the FCC also clarified that its Political File Order was "limited to requests for the purchase of broadcast time by issue advertisers whose commercials communicate a message relating to any political matter of national importance, not to requests for the purchase of broadcast time by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office."

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly was pleased, sort of, but mostly unhappy with the original "clarification."

"I wholeheartedly support this item because it effectively narrows the scope—and thus the legal exposure for well-meaning local broadcasters—of our recent October 2019 items that 'clarify' our political file mandates," he wrote in a statement. "At the time, I was reluctant to approve those actions, and only voted to concur after extensive work over the course of more than a year to remove some [of] the items’ more onerous and objectionable draft provisions. While I was willing to stomach the end result, it remains flawed in many respects as well as constitutionally suspect.

"This item makes a modicum of improvement to the whole mess and provides parties with more certainty as they anticipate a very busy election ad season," he said.

"NAB is pleased the FCC today clarified that a broadcaster's good faith judgment governs its efforts to capture each of the required pieces of the complex web of political advertising rules," said NAB executive VP Dennis Wharton. "This wise clarification will lead to better outcomes for the public and not mire broadcasters in ‘gotcha’ advocacy complaints. Broadcasters are committed to providing the public with complete and transparent files, and today's order achieves that in a fair and even-handed fashion."