Saturday, April 07, 2012

Senators object to FCC proposal to make TV stations put political advertising files online

UPDATE, April 13: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other Senate Republicans sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski earlier this month complaining of the "imposition of burdensome new rules on broadcasters," reports Pro Publica, citing Communications Daily.

Many elements of the Tea Party have been outspoken in favor of government transparency, but for the U.S. senators most identified with the movement, that does not extend to making political television expenses more accessible to the public.

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky (right), Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah "have asked the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its proposal to have TV stations put their political files online," reports John Eggerton of Multichannel News. They were joined by Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Boozman of Arkansas.

The political files, which show who buys the time, how much and when, must be made available for public inspection at a station or cable-company office during regular business hours. The FCC is expected to approve April 27 a regulation that would require the stations to put the information in an online database. "Broadcasters argue . . . that to maintain an online, real-time system would cost staff time and money better spent on local news and other public service," Eggerton writes.

OPINION: That money could also be spent on executive salaries, shareholder profits or some other thing besides public service. In their letter, the senators said the proposal would carry "heavy compliance costs," but as someone who has inspected many of these files at stations, and is familiar with how the same information is already maintained electronically, it's hard for me to imagine that the compliance costs would be very high. And putting them online would make them much more accessible to rural journalists. –Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

UPDATE, April 9: Because of complaints from stations, "The proposal will give smaller stations two more years to start uploading new additions to their files about political ad spending. At the outset, only the affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the top 50 TV markets will be required to do so," reports Brian Stelter of The New York Times. "The FCC says the initial uploading will cost less than $1,000 for a typical station, and will save the stations money over time by avoiding printing and storage costs. The uploaded files will be searchable — but only inside one file at a time." (Read more)

Eggerton notes, "Putting the political files online is part of a larger FCC effort to move station public files online and into a database managed by the FCC that is more easily searchable by the public." (Read more)

1 comment:

Marc said...

On a recent episode of the Bill Moyers show, Moyers mentioned a project to use citizen power and FCC regulations to increase transparency. Basically, if TV stations won't put the records on-line, citizens can, with the help of ProPublica, the New America Foundation and Free Press.

Here's the idea: local TV stations must keep paper records about who's paying for political ads, and they must make them available to the public. The coalition is asking people to go to their local stations, ask for the records, make copies, and then upload the data to one or more of the coalitions' websites. It's not hard to find software that can perform optical character recognition on the copies so that users can search or export to data analysis programs. You can find Moyers' description of the project and the necessary links to the partners on his web site.