Stations move to halt political ad spending rule

Filing in federal court seeks reprieve ahead of Aug. 2 rollout

TV stations are asking a federal court to put a stop to the FCC’s plans to require that TV broadcasters post political ad spending information online.

The new rule, scheduled to take effect on Aug. 2, initially would apply to network affiliates in the top 50 markets.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court of Appeals on Tuesday, the National Assn. of Broadcasters asked for an emergency stay and said the FCC engaged in “arbitrary and capricious decisionmaking” when it adopted the rule in late April. Although broadcasters already are required to make such information public, it usually only can be accessed by visiting the station itself and requesting the public file.

“This will place NAB’s members at a distinct disadvantage to their non-broadcast competitors, who will not be required to post rate information on the Internet,” the NAB said. The org also said the stations would face a “significant burden” by being forced to post information online “on an almost real-time basis.”

The NAB also said the new rule raises antitrust concerns, as stations would have easy access to a competitor’s rate information. Although the NAB proposed a compromise proposal to offer a summary of ad buys without the rate information, a majority of the FCC’s commissioners rejected it.

“Non-broadcast competitors will be able to determine in a matter of seconds exactly what prices local broadcast stations are charging for specific spots,” the NAB said. “As a result, they will acquire an unfair advantage over broadcasters in the competition for political and commercial advertising, just as a poker player who is able to peek at an opponent’s hand acquires an unfair advantage in a poker game.”

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, a champion of the new rule, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that it can be carried out with relative ease and that the agency would hold a demonstration workshop next week. The data will be posted to a central database on the FCC’s website.