Report: B’casters gouged pols

NAB sez 3rd-party spots skewed conclusions

WASHINGTON — While Election 2000 may have been tortuous for the American citizenry, it brought local TV stations a record-breaking $771 million in political ad revenues, according to a study released Tuesday by the Alliance for Better Campaigns.

Watchdog group accused broadcasters of “gouging” political candidates by manipulating an FCC rule requiring broadcasters to offer political ads at a discounted rate.

Political ad revenues in 2000 spiked 50% or greater over 1996.

“Television broadcasters are driving up the cost of politics for their own profit,” said Alliance exec director Paul Taylor. “Worse, they’re doing it with a valuable public resource entrusted to them, free of charge, on the condition that they serve the public interest.”

National Assn. of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said the report was erroneous in its conclusions, since it counted ads bought by political parties and third-party issue groups, such as the National Rifle Assn.

“Any suggestion that broadcasters are gouging political candidates is flat-out false. Stations scrupulously adhere to FCC rules. The proof: that there’s been no complaint filed at the FCC on this issue for the last five years,” Wharton said.

Alliance report was based on a study of 16,000 political ads carried on 10 local stations last fall, an overall analysis of the 484 stations in the top 75 media markets and interviews with political party media buyers.

While the FCC advocates discounted rates, political candidates often paid more in order to ensure that their spots wouldn’t be preempted, the study found. As a result, stations encouraged candidates to pay premium rates.

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