Three Steps the FCC Could Take to Improve Disclosure of Ads, Funding Sources

The Hill: “Yet, currently, the FCC is allowing TV station owners to ignore their statutory obligations to reveal the “true identity” of the sponsor of an ad.

“The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law, filed complaints against stations that during the 2014 campaigns failed to include the true identity of ad sponsor even though that information was readily available to the station. These complaints are pending. In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, dark-money spending on ads is expected to explode in the next presidential election, so it is even more important for the FCC to update sponsorship identification rules.

“Another area ripe for action is for the FCC to finish its proceeding on getting the political files online. TV stations have been required to maintain these files, which include information about ad costs and buys, and to make them publicly available as a means of ensuring compliance with rules governing ad rates for candidates and access to the airwaves. Responding to petitions filed by the Campaign Legal Center and other members of the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition, the agency now requires all television broadcasters to upload their political files information to a FCC database.

“But broadcasters are continuing to drag their heels about providing the information in the online political files in a database format with standardized fields. Instead, they insist on filing “pdf’s.” Thus, the information in the political file is not sortable or searchable; instead, analyzing and understanding the data involves an enormous undertaking, going through each pdf and “scraping” the information to try and make sense of it. So the FCC’s job on this issue is not done.

“Lastly, the FCC should require cable, satellite and radio to also place their political files online. While most political ads air on broadcast TV, the number of ads on these other outlets is growing significantly as campaign consultants attempt to reach specific segments of voters that can be targeted more easily through these media. The Commission is currently considering a proposed rule but has yet to send it out for public comment.”

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