Broadcast stations have traditionally kept data on the cost
of every political ad aired in recent years in hard copy, but a recent proposal
from the FCC has them worried, reported The Wall Street Journal.
The proposal puts the data in an online public database, giving
access to everyone, including other advertisers, the report states.
"As I think about so many things that TV stations do
for the viewer, I'm hard pressed to find out how this satisfies a consumer
need," says Bill Hoffman, executive VP at Atlanta-based Cox
Media Group, which owns 15 broadcast TV stations, the report states.
While political ads bring in multibillion-dollar business
during election years, they are more heavily regulated than standard ads. In
1971, Congress ordered that candidates must get the lowest price for ads in the
weeks before an election; later, the FCC began requiring stations to disclose
political ad information, the story said.
That information is stored in station headquarters alongside
government-mandated reports on indecency complains, signal reach and other such
data. The FCC has proposed instead that the stations put the information online
on their own websites or submit it to the agency to post in a single master
Free Press, a public interest group, is in favor of the
change. Broadcasters, however, strongly oppose the proposal, arguing that it is
not fair to make them disclose that information while cable television and
websites do not, according to the report.
Fox, NBC and Disney lobbyists told the FCC in a meeting last
month that posting individual ad rates online means "competitors in the
market and commercial advertisers may anonymously glean highly sensitive
pricing data," possibly leading to "distortion in the market for
The National Association of Broadcasters has hinted at
possible legal issues, saying that Congress did not give FCC the authority to
require online disclosure of political ad information.
With political ad spending on television expected to reach
about $3.2 billion this election season, added to the rise of super PACs, broadcasters
say that Democrats may be angry about the Citizens United decision. The proposal,
therefore, is a way to guarantee more political spending transparency.
Jerald Fritz, vice president at WJLA owner Allbritton
Communications Co., said the critics of the Citizens United decision are targeting
the wrong group.
"There's no reason to disrupt the market of selling
advertising by one subset of the media to police campaign financing," he
said in the report.