FCC refutes b’casters on political ad data

Commission counters claims of logisitical burden and competitive conflicts

Pushing back against broadcasters’ legal effort to halt a new requirement that stations post information about political ad buys online, the FCC minimized the rule’s impact in a court filing on Friday and said it was fully within its authority to carry it out.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters is seeking a stay to prevent implementation of the rule, which is to begin in early August, in time for the fall campaign.

In a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, the FCC said broadcasters have long had to disclose political ad buying information, though the info is currently available only if a member of the public actually visits a station and requests it. The FCC also said that fears that the disclosure of rate information would have anti-competitive effects are overblown, as stations still would not be revealing individual commercial transactions.

“NAB cannot come to grips with those facts, nor does it explain why, in light of these findings, its concerns are significantly exacerbated by online posting, or why they are not outweighed by substantial benefits to the public from improved accessibility,” the FCC said in its brief. “Under the circumstances, NAB’s decision to oppose online access to files that are already publicly available in paper form appears to stem from a fear that such access will subject NAB members to more, not less, competition.”

It called NAB’s contention that stations would be put at a competitive disadvantage “entirely unproven.”

The FCC also said that NAB’s contention that the costs of compliance would be substantial are “grossly overstated.”

The data will initially be gathered from affiliates of the four major networks in the top 50 markets and then posted on the FCC’s website.

A number of public-interest groups, including the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the New America Foundation, also filed a brief in support of the FCC’s position.