You have to hand it to Pro Publica for coming up with a creative work-around to one of the weirdest disputes at the FCC — the debate over whether to make local TV station data about political advertising available online. The public interest journalism group has begun to enlist people to visit local TV stations and copy the info about political ads that they’re already required to make public on paper. Reporters will put the files online for everyone to see. “These paper files contain detailed data on all political ads that run on the channel, such as when they aired, who bought the time and how much they paid,” Pro Publica says. “It’s a transparency gold mine, allowing the public to see how campaigns and outside groups are influencing elections.” The FCC seems to share that desire to make the info easy for people to find. It’s weighing a proposal that would require stations to put their reports online. Public interest groups love the idea. The deans or directors of 12 major college journalism programs also told the FCC that the files include “vital information about the American political system.”
So it’s a good idea, right? Not to station owners. Allbritton Communications said that the FCC mandate could lead to “Soviet-style standardization of the way advertising should be sold as determined by the government.” The NAB warned that a burdensome mandate could result in “harmful unintended consequences.” It also challenged the FCC’s authority to change the disclosure requirement for political ads; it says the data is the province of the Federal Election Commission. And reps from Disney, NBCUniversal, and News Corp warned about a “potential anticompetitive effect.” They’re concerned that rivals will be able to easily see each other’s ad rates, and advertisers will “anonymously glean highly sensitive pricing data.” (Stations are supposed to offer political groups the lowest rates provided to the most favored commercial advertisers.)
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