Broadcast Industry, Channeling Their Demons, Fights Transparency

Wow. Just wow. Recall how the great leveler in the wake of Citizens United was supposed to be the transparency of political spending? Well, not so much…

The National Association of Broadcasters is asking a federal appeals court to block a rulepassed by the Federal Communications Commission last month requiring TV stations to post political ad data on the Internet.

In a petition for review filed Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., the broadcast industry group argues that the rule is “arbitrary, capricious, in excess of the Commission’s statutory authority inconsistent with the First Amendment, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The association represents, among others, the parent companies of NBC, CBS, Fox and the broadcasting arm of the Washington Post.

TV stations have long been required to keep detailed information about who buys political ads, how much they paid, and when spots run. But the information is currently kept only on paper at stations. The FCC’s new rule, which has not yet gone into effect, would require stations to post the information to a new government website.

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Transparency Has Many Faces. Here is One Well Worth Your Time…

This seems like a heck of a good idea. I am no telecommunications policy guy, but I am a transparency advocate, and I can get behind this idea in about a heartbeat.

From the media reform group SavetheNews:

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In the media reform world, we often say we’re fighting for “better” media. Of course, “better” is the sort of word that begs comparison: better than what? If we’re to demand more of our local broadcasters, we need to know what’s wrong with the status quo.

Broadcasters use the public airwaves free of charge, and in return are supposed to provide programming that fulfills the news and information needs of communities. The Federal Communications Commission requires broadcasters to keep public files detailing exactly how they serve local needs. But these records are generally kept in file cabinets at local TV stations and are not easily accessible. So the pressure is on for broadcasters to put these files online in a publicly searchable database.

The FCC is currently taking public comments on just such a proposal; the deadline for comments is this Thursday, and already thousands of people have urged the agency to adopt the rules. Earlier this month, the Public Interest Public Airwaves coalition, which includes Free Press, submitted four petitions totaling 68,000 signatures to the FCC in support of the rule change.

While the proposal may seem like a small tweak, it’s actually a major proceeding that will have lasting implications on the kind of news and information we receive. Enhanced-disclosure rules would do the following:

  • force broadcasters to reveal how much money political campaigns spend on advertising at local stations
  • require broadcasters to document who is paying for political ads
  • require broadcasters to disclose sponsored “news” segments produced by advertisers
  • reveal whether stations are engaged in “covert consolidation,” an increasingly common practice in which stations merge operations and air the same newscast on multiple stations

And finally, the rules would make broadcasters disclose how much of their programming actually serves the public interest.

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