Effort Seeks More Political File Info

Political activist site is seeking signatures on a petition to require the source of political ads to identify themselves in the FCC's political files.

That comes as the commission prepares on July 1 to require all stations to upload their political files to an online database, as the top stations in the top 50 markets have had to do.

"Disclosure of political ads offers our only glimpse into $300 Million of secret money that floods our elections. But major TV executives refuse to obey the law," rootstrikers said in an a-mail. "Others give misleading information on a loophole-ridden form created by industry lobbyists!"

The FCC has been under pressure from campaign finance reforms to better enforce its disclosure requirements post-Citizens United and after the failure of legislative efforts to toughen those TV station ad online disclosures.

The FCC has been investigating 11 stations cited by Sunlight Foundation for alleged violations of the FCC's political file rules.

“We take political file complaints seriously," said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last month. "Accuracy is just as important as accessibility in providing this kind of information to the American public. I hope this serves as a reminder to all stations of their obligation to maintain political files in accordance with statutory provisions and our rules.”

Sunlight Foundation and Campaign Legal Center filed complaints May 1 against the stations for allegedly failing to post the requisite info about political ad sponsors in their online political files.

The top four stations in the top 50 markets have been required to post those files to the FCC's searchable online database since August 2012, but other stations were given until July 1, 2014, to start posting them, unless the FCC found reason to change that. The FCC did not find that reason, despite broadcaster protestations that the filings gave their competitors sensitive pricing information.

The contracts have long been part of station public files, but they were a lot harder to access than in an online database. The National Association of Broadcasters had suggested that if the FCC was going to continue to require the online political file posting, it should ask the same of cable and satellite operators, particularly as it expands the requirement to all stations. "We note the particular disparity of requiring even the smallest television stations to disclose their most sensitive pricing data via the Internet, while pay TV operators with millions of subscribers and the largest online entities are not so required," NAB said in comments last August.

In a reminder from the Media Bureau issued in April of this year, TV stations outside the top four and the top 50 markets were advised that they would have to start the online posting July 1, as initially planned.

Those stations have already had to post their other public files—children's programming lists, for example—so the bureau suggested it should not be tough from a tech standpoint.

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.