FCC Votes to Require Broadcasters to Post Ad Data Online

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In a major victory for transparency and truth in political advertising on the airwaves, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted this morning that TV broadcasters must post their public files, including political advertising data, online. The files, which will be accessible to everyone via the FCC’s website, will reveal the identities of the campaign committees, super PACs and nonprofit organizations spending millions of dollars on negative and misleading ads.

The new rule doesn’t go as far as some would like. For the first two years, the online requirement only applies to affiliates of the four major networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — in the top 50 markets. In this critical election period, this would exempt Spanish language stations and affiliates in some areas of battleground states that will no doubt be abuzz with political ads in the coming weeks and months.

The Sunlight Foundation’s map shows which stations will be required to post political ad data online (green) this year. Battleground states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia would include areas that fall outside the top 50 markets (red).

There are other limitations. The new rules don’t require the posting of past political ad data and in certain circumstances allow smaller stations to apply for a waiver. What’s more, according to the website TVNewsCheck, “…The FCC decided it would require stations to upload files only in the PDF format rather than into a searchable, common database.”

A partial dissent came from Republican commissioner Robert MacDowell, who supported the position of the broadcasting industry that the new rules would be too expensive and reveal to competitors too much information on TV station ad rates. But, according to National Journal, FCC attorney Holly Saurer responded, “In this context the cost of uploading these documents are far outweighed by the benefits to the public.”

“FCC officials… argued that the costs will likely be minimal, especially compared to the billions of dollars that stations take in from political campaigns.”

Read more about today’s vote on SavetheNews.org.

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