Sunlight to FCC: 2,100 Files Missing From Political Database

The Sunlight Foundation Thursday said that due to imprecise
rules and broadcasters' varying interpretations, 2,100 entries in the FCC's TV
station political files database are missing. It says that of the 220 stations
that are required to post documents on political ad spending- -t he top
affiliates in the top 50 markets -- more than half have since removed some of
those documents.

Sunlight has been monitoring and trying to expand the
database (through its Political Ad
Sleuth project
), as has ProPublica, which Sunlight says has most of those
missing files in the cloud. Sunlight says it has started backing up the FCC
filings so it can preserve the non-paper trail.

In a story on its website, Sunlight Reporting Group's Jake
Harper said that broadcasters have been updating ad revisions by replacing the
original file, which Sunlight says keeps the public dark on changes like shifts
in strategy and spending.

Broadcasters also disagree on interpretations of the
requirement -- since Aug. 2 -- of uploading the political files, the group
points out, with some uploading only certain agreements with "national
significance" or that deal with certain kinds of spots. Then there are
mistakes in filing and labeling that can account for some omissions.

"NAB is not sure which files that Sunlight is looking at, but we do know that there have been some system problems that both stations and the FCC are working to correct," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. 

Sunlight said the FCC had declined to comment on what it
called a "disturbing pattern of disappearing documents." At presstime,
the FCC had not returned a request for comment on why it had not replied to
Sunlight's request.

Broadcasters have sued the FCC over the requirement, but
last month asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to
delay hearing its appeal of the mandate from this month until Feb. 15 and reserved
the right to drop that legal action "based on experience gained during the
2012 election cycle," or if, instead, the results reinforced the NAB's
argument that posting individual spot prices puts it at a competitive
disadvantage, the FCC could act on its petition for reconsideration, which
offered up an alternative where stations would provide aggregate prices.

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.