What Does The FCC Say About Misleading Ads?


After reading about the Denver situation in our previous story, we turned to one of our legal writers, broadcast attorney John Garziglia, and asked him what the responsibility of a radio station is when it comes to fact-checking ads. What if it comes to the station’s attention, as it has here, that The Washington Post’s Fact Checker is giving an ad “Four Pinocchios” — or a “whopper?” Does a station have any responsibility to pull an ad?

Garziglia says, “A radio station’s responsibility under the law for advertising it broadcasts is simple.  With the exception of certain political ads, the owner/licensee of a radio station has full liability for anything broadcast.  The exception is a political ad purchased by a candidate or a candidate’s campaign committee with the candidate’s voice contained in the ad which qualifies the ad as a “use” and shields the station from liability for the content.”

“But, the broad responsibility a radio station has for its programming and advertising does not require that every statement that is broadcast be factually indisputable, or even factually correct.  A broadcast station can pretty much broadcast lawful programming and advertisements that it sees fit, subject to liability to others for defamation and other such torts.”

“The FCC states with respect to advertising that it “expects broadcasters to be responsible to the community they serve and act with reasonable care to ensure that advertisements aired on their stations are not false or misleading.”  But that is the extent of the FCC’s admonitions on false and misleading advertising.  Past that, the FCC directs listeners to the FTC to complain.  If the FTC takes action against anyone, it will generally take action against the advertiser and not the radio station.”

“Even though the FCC does not regulate the factual content of advertising, that does not stop complaints from being filed at the FCC regarding advertising content, nor will it stop legal action from being brought against a station by an aggrieved party.  A complaint against a station may cause a delay in a license renewal or station sale application, even if the complaint is meritless or not within the FCC’s jurisdiction.  A lawsuit can cost a station time and money in defending.  And it goes without saying that every broadcast station should carry errors and omissions insurance.”

“If a station is willing to run politically-oriented advertising and be in the heat of discussion, assuming that an advertisement otherwise meets the station’s standards for content and is not libelous, obscene, indecent or otherwise in violation of the law, a complaint regarding the factual content of an ad should likely be responded to by presenting to the complainer the station’s rate card, as the best route to truth is not a cessation of an ad in question, but rather a presentation of the opposite viewpoint.”


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