Saturday, April 7, 2012

Paul objects to FCC proposal to make stations put political advertising information online

Many elements of the Tea Party have been outspoken in favor of government transparency, but for the U.S. senators most identified with the movement, that does not extend to making political television expenses more accessible to the public.

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky (right), Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah "have asked the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its proposal to have TV stations put their political files online," reports John Eggerton of Multichannel News. They were joined by Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Boozman of Arkansas.

The political files, which show who buys the time, how much and when, must be made available for public inspection at a station or cable-company office during regular business hours. The FCC is expected to approve April 27 on a regulation that would require stations in major markets to put the information in an online database. "Broadcasters argue . . . that to maintain an online, real-time system would cost staff time and money better spent on local news and other public service," Eggerton writes.

OPINION: That money could also be spent on executive salaries, shareholder profits or some other thing besides public service. In their letter, the senators said the proposal would carry "heavy compliance costs," but as someone who has inspected many of these files at stations, and is familiar with how the same information is already maintained electronically, it's hard for me to imagine that the compliance costs would be very high. And putting them online would make them much more accessible to rural journalists. –Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

UPDATE, April 9: Because of complaints from stations, "The proposal will give smaller stations two more years to start uploading new additions to their files about political ad spending. At the outset, only the affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the top 50 TV markets will be required to do so," reports Brian Stelter of The New York Times. "The FCC says the initial uploading will cost less than $1,000 for a typical station, and will save the stations money over time by avoiding printing and storage costs. The uploaded files will be searchable — but only inside one file at a time." (Read more)

Corie Wright, senior policy counsel for Free Press, which supports online posting, told Eggerton, "It's baffling that these senators would want to hide public information in dusty filing cabinets when it could be made available to their constituents via the Internet. The public wants and needs to know who's trying to influence them over the public airwaves -- and the FCC appears to be doing the right thing by bringing this antiquated system into the 21st Century."

Eggerton notes, "Putting the political files online is part of a larger FCC effort to move station public files online and into a database managed by the FCC that is more easily searchable by the public." (Read more)

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