Skip to main content

GenachowskiDefends Move to Put Station's Political Files Online

Chairman Julius Genachowski Wednesday defended the FCC's vote to move station
political files online as part of its decision to move TV station public files
online over the next two years. He also came close -- but no cigars -- to
saying the FCC would not expand that political file data collection

That came at a Senate Appropriations
subcommittee hearing on the FCC's budget request -- a 2% increase from $340
million to $347 million -- essentially flat adjusted for inflation, added the
chairman, and that despite increasing workloads in many areas.

The hearing was not about that budget,
primarily, but was instead a chance for some Appropriations hearing oversight
of the FCC -- the FCC chair's first appearance before the Financial Services
and General Government subcommittee in a decade -- with questions that rangedover many subjects.

Subcommittee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) teed
up a chance for the chairman to explain the decision to put political files
online given complaints from broadcasters that it would cause hardships and
competitive disadvantages. Durbin supports the move, saying it increases
transparency and educates the public, particularly given the lack of a Super PAC
disclosure law. 

Durbin also asked whether the commission was
teeing up a similar online posting requirement for cable and satellite
political files.

The chairman did not answer the question about
cable or satellite, though previously he has pointed out that the action the
FCC took was in response to a specific recommendation in the study on the
information needs of communities that applied only to TV station files.

Genachowski also said that the FCC had done
its due diligence -- a point he made during the FCC's vote to approve the move
last month -- and found that those dogs did not hunt, as it were. "We
concluded that the arguments about burden really weren't realistic," he
said. Asked if the FCC was forcing disclosure of sensitive pricing data, the broadcaster
complaint about competitive disadvantage, particularly sense cable and
satellite are not similarly burdened, Genachowski said that the data was
already disclosed -- in paper form at stations -- and available to anyone with
an economic interest.

He expertly navigated around a follow-up
question from Sen. Jerrry Moran (R-Kan.) about whether the FCC would go beyond
what was currently included in the political file to require the collection of
any additional information. "What I hear you saying," said Moran, "is this
is what the Congress authorized to be collected and retained. It is what the
Supreme Court said was fine." Both are arguments the chairman made at thepublic meeting at which the item was voted.

Moran said he assumed the answer was no, and
did not say whether he still assumed that after the following exchange:

Genachowski: "I think you are right. The
steps that we put in place simply said we have already worked out what should
be the disclosures. Let's move them online. There are many people with many
different views who think that disclosure should be done differently, including
broadcasters who proposed some ideas on how to modify the disclosures.
"That is a discussion that could be had and we will be open to those
suggestions. But the default is that what has been disclosed will continue to
be disclosed. [The FCC said it would take a look after a year at how its beta
test of those political file postings -- beginning with 200 stations in the top
50 markets -- collect comment and proceed accordingly.]

Moran: "Do you have the statutory authority to
collect and disclose more information or were you able to do what you did
because of the law you indicated Congress had passed [McCain-Feingold].

Genachowski: "I would presume that we do.
As part of broadcasters' public trustee obligations which go back many, many
decades I would presume we have that authority. There have been a few instances
where Congress said to the FCC 'whatever you do, make sure you do this,"
and this is one of those cases. But I think most people would agree that
authority with respect to information from spectrum licensees is pretty broad."

The FCC currently has open a separate
proceeding on expanding its program/issues list to provide more detailed
information about what public interest programming broadcasters are airing.

The chairman seemed taken by surprise by a
Durbin question that actually was about the FCC's budget. According to Moran,
the FCC asked for a 10% reduction in funding for the FCC Inspector General's
office, a position Durbin said was " a little more popular since the GSA
mess," adding: "why would you want to cut back on the Inspector General's
capacity. Genachowski said he thought Durbin was wrong, but that, in any event,
"our practice has been, is and will be to pass through the Inspector
General's request for a budget and to support their budget." He called the
IG's work and independence "incredibly important."