By Paul Barbagallo
The National Association of Broadcasters has asked a federal appeals court to
stay a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring television stations to
post to the internet information about political ad buys.
In an emergency motion
filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit late July
10, the association said its member TV stations will suffer “irreparable harm”
if the FCC begins enforcing the rule, which is scheduled to take effect on Aug.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) filed a lawsuit challenging
the rules in D.C. Circuit Court in May, and is seeking a stay pending judicial
“This case satisfies the requirements for a stay,” NAB wrote. “The
association is likely to succeed on the merits because the FCC engaged in
arbitrary and capricious decision-making by disregarding the competitive harm
that is likely to result from the order and departing from the provisions of the
Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.”
Television stations are required by law to maintain--and make available to
the public--such information on political ad spending, but only in hard copy,
which can be time-consuming and cumbersome for members of the public.
Absent a favorable court ruling, the NAB claims that its members will be
disadvantaged in the competition for political and commercial advertising, as
their “non-broadcast competitors” will be able to determine “in a matter of
seconds” exactly what prices local broadcast stations are charging for specific
“The order compels television stations to post the prices for specific
advertisements to a public website immediately after the sales occur,” the NAB
noted. “The balance of hardships and the public interest also favor a stay
because the likely harm from requiring immediate posting of detailed price
information about specific advertising sales outweighs the benefits of such a
Under Section 315 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Bipartisan
Campaign Reform Act of 2002, broadcasters' “political files”--as they are known
in the statute--must reflect all requests “made by or on behalf of a legally
qualified candidate for public office” or that “communicates messages relating
to any political matter of national importance, including a legally qualified
candidate, any election to federal office, or a national legislative issue of
The political file also reveals how the television station responded to such
requests--if a request was granted and, if so, the schedule of the times
purchased, the times that the spots actually aired, the rates charged, the
“classes” of time purchased, and whether a station granted any free time to a
According to the NAB, nothing in either the Communications Act or Bipartisan
Campaign Reform Act, known as McCain-Feingold, directs the FCC to be a “central
online repository” of campaign information; the Federal Election Commission
should be, the NAB argues.
If the court sides with the FCC, as of Aug. 2, the rules will apply to
television station affiliates of the four largest U.S. networks in the top 50
designated market areas, which the agency estimates will be 200 stations. The
rest of the roughly 1,800 stations will have until July 1, 2014, to comply,
which would leave the ad buys in many areas of swing states, especially smaller
and midsize media markets, still offline. Despite this, major broadcasters'
political files still will be available online prior to the 2012 elections.
Broadcasters are estimated to earn $2.5 billion in political advertising in
2012--up 62.5 percent over 2008, according to a report by SNL Kagan, a media
For the NAB motion, visit http://www.nab.org/documents/newsRoom/pdfs/071012_political_file_motion_to_stay.pdf.