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FCC Requires Top Market TV Stations To Post Political Ad Data Online

By NPR Staff | 04/27/2012

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved a rule requiring TV stations to post details online about the amount of advertising time political candidates and campaigns buy, as well as how much the stations charge for those ads.

TV stations already are required to keep such public records. But in most cases, the information has been accessible only to those who visit a TV station and physically look through paper files, NPR's Brian Naylor reported.

Friday's 2-1 vote of FCC commissioners requires broadcasters to put the information on the Internet.

The records will be available through an FCC-hosted online database. For the next two years, the ruling applies only to major network affiliates (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) in the nation's top 50 markets.

As Naylor reported on NPR's Morning Edition, that means smaller cities in many of the swing states likely to be hotly contested in this fall's presidential and Senate races will be exempt from the new requirement.

ProPublica noted: "FCC spokeswoman Janice Wise told ProPublica that the commission is not creating a searchable database of the political ad files. ... That will make it much more difficult to analyze the information."

And the Orlando Sentinel reports:

"The proposal comes with massive loopholes: cable and satellite providers are not covered, and Spanish-language stations are exempted for two years, leaving out a major source of advertising this election year, especially in Central Florida. And it gives stations six months to comply.

"Nevertheless, watchdog groups say the rule will shine a light on the influential role of 'Super PACs' and nonprofit organizations that round up millions of dollars from anonymous donors to attack candidates or promote causes."

Some TV stations had objected to the ruling, saying that making their rates easier to see would help their competition.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski argued in support of the new rule, saying it would make the political ad process more transparent by moving information out of office filing cabinets and onto the Internet. He voted for the rule, as did Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. Commissioner Robert McDowell opposed the online-filing requirement.

"The rule-making today from the FCC makes considerable progress on disclosure," said Lisa Rosenberg of the open-government advocacy Sunlight Foundation. "But in order to have full disclosure on political ad spending, we need not just all media markets covered, but action from Congress to plug the disclosure holes created after the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling."
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