TV to FCC: Let'sKeep Politics Out of It

New fronts open in battle over stations being forced to go public with their prices for political ads
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Broadcasters and others remain opposed to sending the FCC their political ad prices, which would be stored in a national database. And those broadcasters have pulled out all the stops, literally, in their attempt to block or reverse the effort.

The latest moves came last week, when a coalition of top TV station groups petitioned the FCC to reconsider its April decision that Big Four affiliates in the top 50 markets had to start supplying political file info to the FCC. These FCC requests include individual spot prices, which would allow the commission to put the info online. Separately, the National Association of Broadcasters asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to reject the information-collection portion of the rules.

Filing that petition were Barrington, Belo, Cox, Scripps, Hearst, Gannett, LIN, Meredith, Post-Newsweek, Raycom and Schurz. Those were the groups that had offered the compromise of providing aggregate spot prices rather than individual prices—a suggestion repeated in their petition. They would also provide pricing for state and local issue ads, which curently are not required to be included in stations’ public files.

Despite this flurry of activity, TV stations may still have to start ponying up the data as soon as mid-July, but more likely by early August. Curbing the FCC effort remains top of mind; an executive with one of the groups said their petition would leave ad-pricing information available to journalists and others seeking it, without putting broadcasters at a competitive disadvantage by including individual prices.

FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake confirmed to B&C that the agency received the petition and would “consider it carefully.”

Elsewhere, the House Appropriations Committee could vote this week on a bill that includes blocking FCC funding of political online filings. But like many bills in this divided Congress, even if it passes the committee and the House—which it could—it will smack dead into a chamber wall in the uncompromising Senate.

The NAB filed suit against the new online reporting obligation, and TV stations last week asked the FCC to reconsider the decision. But unless the OMB finds that the information collection in the new regs violates Paperwork Reduction Act requirements, they will take effect 30 days after the OMB gives its approval.

NAB has already told OMB what it thinks. In comments filed last week, NAB said OMB should reject the FCC’s rule as “not [satisfying] the rigorous standards of the Paperwork Reduction Act.”

Broadcasters continue to argue that they will be at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis their cable competitors, which don’t have to publish their spot prices nationally

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

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