Doing Your Part to Dig Up Campaign Ad Data

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Bill Moyers reading his iPad on set. (Photo credit: Dale Robbins)

Here’s where you can check my temperature occasionally, because I’ll be using this space to keep an eye on how certain stories evolve, especially those that reflect on who’s doing what to democracy. Right now the mercury has shot up way above normal.

A day after my posting about broadcasters pushing back on an FCC plan to post names of political ad buyers online, The Hill reported that “[t]wo Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee questioned Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski in a letter on Tuesday about his agency’s proposal to require TV stations to keep online databases of political advertising.”

You can read the fingerprints of lobbyists from the National Association of Broadcasters all over that little ploy. No matter that commercial stations clean up on their free use of the public access, taking it gratis and converting it into fat profits for themselves, they continue to insist on shirking their public obligations. In this case, they want to make it almost impossible for citizens to find out who’s paying for those nasty ads that treat politics as if it were conducted by squabbling two-year-olds.

AP London Photo Library 1930s

AP London

At least I’m not alone in frothing at the mouth over this. Bloomberg View — no Marxist rag — has now called on the money-sucking owners and managers to get the information out where citizens can access it online. The headline reads: “Get TV Political Ad Data Out of the Cabinet, Onto the Web.” If they don’t comply, the FCC should insist that they do or lose the license the public has granted them to mint money.

Hey, you can help: Go to your local station, ask for the data and start posting it yourself. And all you professors of journalism — how about enlisting your students to be their own FOIA sleuths? The nonprofit newsroom ProPublica is encouraging students to go to their local stations, xerox the documents and post them online. (These are the documents that tell us who’s buying ads — the very data that the stations have claimed are too difficult and costly to post online.) And give your students classroom credit for putting your mentoring to work.

Want to learn more? Read “If TV Stations Won’t Post Their Data Online, We Will” on the ProPublica website.

Keep fighting, people. It’s the only way.

Update | March 22, 2012

Friends and Kindred Spirits: Here’s the latest take on commercial television stations that are trying to make it hard, if not impossible, for citizens like you to find out who’s paying for the political ads that are further enriching the mega-media corporations to whom we have “loaned” our public airwaves for the good of the public interest only to have them corrupted for private greed.

CLC Blog Update: Broadcasters, get with the program — put records online
by Meredith McGehee

Television broadcasters are going to the mat for paper cuts and metal file cabinets. At a time of huge profits from political ad sales, many broadcasters are fighting tooth and nail to continue to make it difficult for people to access their public political files. Read more »

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