There’s a lot of discussion between TV and the government about political rates and filing those rates online with a TV station’s public file. TV is worried about posting the rates for everyone to see and their is also concern about the possibility of collusion. So we asked broadcast attorney John Garziglia the following question: What should radio stations know about getting political rate information in an online public file?
The FCC’s upcoming anticipated rule change for television stations to post online the station’s political file, including the rates at which political ads were sold, was a significant subject of discussion at the just concluded NAB convention.
The FCC is expected at its upcoming April 27, 2012 meeting to issue new television local public file requirements. The new TV regulations are expected to require the information in a TV station’s local public file that is not now already available on the FCC’s website be uploaded to the FCC’s website, rather than being kept in a paper local public file at the station’s main studio.
Of particular concern to TV broadcasters is the anticipated FCC requirement for an online disclosure of rate information. Broadcasters are concerned that posting the lowest unit charges at which political time is sold will enable a compilation of commercially sensitive rate information which will adversely affect the television advertising marketplace. Indeed, advertisers having access to a database of what is the lowest unit charge for each station’s classes of time cannot do anything other than artificially fix rates and distort the marketplace as the reported rates will fail to reflect quantity purchases as a metric of price.
Thankfully, at least for now and likely for the upcoming election season, online political files are a television issue, not a radio issue. While it is likely that sooner or later, the FCC will require that radio broadcasters likewise put radio local public files online, for now, there is now no requirement to do so. There is likewise no restriction against a radio station putting its local public file online if desired, provided that a computer terminal is made available by which members of the public may access that online political file.
As the political season amps up and radio stations hopefully enjoy some of the political ad dollars that will be spent by candidates and political action committees, it is useful to review some of the FCC’s political file requirements. First of all, the FCC expects that radio stations will immediately put into a station’s political file all requests made for political broadcast time. Although the FCC has not defined precisely what “immediately” means, with the time for opposing candidates to request equal opportunities being seven days, immediately likely means the same day of the candidate ad buy or request for time, or first thing the next morning at the very latest.
The information required to be immediately put into the political file regarding requests for political time includes the station’s disposition of the request, the charge for broadcast time, the scheduling of the spots, when spots are actually broadcast, the class of time purchased, the candidate’s name, his or her authorized committee name and treasurer’s name. Similar information for issue ads relating to any political matter of national importance must also be put into the station’s political file, along with the name and contact information for the purchaser, and a listing of its chief executive officers, or a listing of its executive committee or board members as may be applicable.
While the FCC does not expect that a simple request for rates by a political time buyer be put into the political file, if an inquiry by a candidate’s representative includes a request for available time, that inquiry is probably required to be put into the local public file.
The public’s knowledge of the existence of a radio station’s local public file has been heightened over the past several months with an encouragement by some public interest groups for members of the public to review a station’s local public file. The public’s awareness will be raised even more upon the FCC’s anticipated April 27th rule change for TV stations. Therefore, it is prudent for radio station management to review now with staff its local public file procedures and in particular, procedures for the station’s political file. If you need to know more about the FCC’s political broadcast regulations, a complete political law manual is available for review, download and printing at www.commlaw.com.