Stations Must Reveal Political Television Ad Data

Are you curious about how your local television station charges for political advertising? If the FCC has its way, you won’t need to guess much longer. On Friday, the commission passed new rules that require stations to post the information on a public website.

At first blush, this may seem to be a strong blow for transparency in our political process, but I have to wonder if it will ever be implemented. First, it singles out television broadcasters. The rules do not apply to radio, newspapers, billboards, or even cable and satellite television networks. Just those stations that broadcast free over-the-air television.

In addition, only 10% of the stations will have to comply with the new requirements, at least at the start. The rules will apply to just the 200 largest stations that are affiliated with the major networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. The other 1,800 stations will not have to start making their disclosures for another two years.

I recognize that I’m treading a fine line here, but I believe that this issue transcends political party divisions that have polarized the discussion of many issues in the country. However, I believe that there are many people to the left and the right who have grave concerns about the amount of money spent on political advertising, and that more transparency could be a safeguard against abuse. On the other hand, I am a business owner and I would be distressed to have to put this much detail about my company¬†finances in the public view. According to some reports, the television broadcasters offered to provide aggregate figures about total time and costs broken down by candidate, but the FCC apparently was not interested in this compromise. They want the specific rates paid to be posted online. I can see how this could lead to complications with commercial advertisers, once they see what the politicians got to pay for airtime.

On the other hand, the television stations already have to make this same information available for public inspection at their offices, so how much difference does it make that they also have to post it online?

I’m not sure what is fair in this dispute, but the one prediction that I can make with confidence is that the television networks will make sure that this ends up in court before it takes effect. And I hope that the final outcome will result in a positive change in television that has become a political battleground.