State Broadcasters Ask FCC to Defer Political File Posting Deadline

State broadcast associations have told the FCC that unless it imposes online political file requirements on cable and satellite operators, it should not do so on them.

Starting in August 2012, the FCC required the top for network affiliated stations in the top 50 markets to post their political files online and set a July 1, 2014 date for the rest of the nation's TV stations to follow suit, pending its review of comments on how the top-50 requirement was working out.

The FCC is now collecting and reviewing those comments. When it opened the comment window in July, the FCC reportedly had received 66,000-plus political file documents, while the general online public file — which includes other information like kids TV programming requirements — had generated 2.5 million page views. The file has been used by campaign finance reform groups — notably the Sunlight Foundation — to track spending and spotlight disclosure issues.

The state associations, in a filing this month at the commission, said the FCC should defer that July 2014 deadline until it applies the requirement to cable and satellite, and repeal the requirement for the top 50 stations in the interim as well.

"As long as the Commission refuses to apply the Online Political File Rule to cable and satellite providers as well, which largely compete with television broadcasters for the same viewers and advertisers, the Commission should, as a matter of fundamental fairness consistent with principles of administrative law, defer that tentative deadline. For the same reason, the Commission should also, on its own motion, lift the current, broadcast-only, asymmetric Online Political File Rule at least until it requires cable and satellite operators to post online the same type of competitively sensitive information."

Broadcasters have complained that having to post the spot prices online could give its competitors for political ad dollars an unfair advantage.

The FCC back in April 2012 voted to require stations to upload their public files to an FCC database for online public inspection, including EEO files, joint sales agreements, and other info, but it decided to phase-in the political file requirement. Stations have always been required to keep the information in a public file viewable by the public, but that was usually a filing cabinet that required a visit to the station.

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.