State Associations Call FCC Political Ad Guidance 'Unconscionable'

State broadcast associations from A to Z (actually from Alabama to Wyoming) this week added their weight to the National Association of Broadcasters petition for changes to the FCC's guidance on political ad disclosures.

NAB joined with Hearst Television, Graham Media Group, Nexstar, Fox, Tegna and Scripps to ask the FCC to narrow its definition of non-candidate ads on “any political matter of national importance" (i.e. "issue" ads) and the disclosure obligations on broadcasters to identify the issues in those ads.

Broadcasters want the FCC to narrow the interpretation of "national importance" by specifying that the term applies only to national political actors in position to take national action, which would exclude ads targeted at state and local races, even ones that might mention issues of national importance.

The state associations did not mince words in expressing their support for the NAB.

"[T]he FCC has veered sharply from that approach, placing not just heavier burdens on broadcasters’ and issue advertisers’ political speech, but imposing an unconscionable regulatory burden on all broadcasters, from the smallest to the largest," they told the commission, calling it a "sudden deviation" unsupported by the law.

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.

The FCC said: ”For each request to purchase broadcast time that triggers disclosure… licensees must include in their political files the names of all candidates (and the offices to which they are seeking election), all elections and all national legislative issues of public importance to which the communication refers.”

Cable operators, who are subject to disclosure rules as well, also support the NAB petition. 

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.