Renewed Pressure for TV Stations to Share Political Ad Info

Today at the New York Times' Media Decoder Blog, Brian Stelter's post acknowledged a new focus to get TV stations to open up their political advertising information online. Stelter leads,

Local broadcasters, by law, have to disclose the identities of those who buy political advertisements as well as detailed information about the purchases. They print out the data and store it at their offices for the public to see, theoretically. But few members of the public ever get a chance to.

In late October last year, the FCC introduced a proposal to require TV stations to post their public inspection files online for easier access.  Since then, the effort to see these disclosures during the 2012 election cycle has been building. FreePress released Citizens Inundated,  a report on political advertising in January, which we wrote about here. Earlier this week, a Bloomberg editorial called for broadcasters to take political advertising data 'out of the cabinet' and put onto the web.

The [FCC] proposal has been met with predictable wails. Deploying the partisan cliche of the season, Robert McDowell, the sole Republican of the FCC’s three commissioners -- two short of its five-person mandate -- has called it a “jobs destroyer.” On the other hand, Hearst Television Inc.warned that the change from paper to digital could require as many as four new full-time employees per station, costing each station as much as $140,000 per year...Neither claim is credible.

In the ProPublica post by Daniel Victor that Stelter references, is an anecdote suggests that foul play in unreported station income:

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, found that $70 million in advertising had been unreported from 2000-10 in Michigan.[emphasis ours] He got that number by personally examining public files, at one point driving 14 hours for a 15-minute visit to a station.

Bloomberg's editorial closed with:

Given the shabby state of campaign-finance disclosure, the FCC shouldn’t wait until after November to adopt its sensible idea. For the next election cycle, it should require digital disclosure by large cable and radio stations. The expense is not great. The need is.

Media Council Hawaii agrees. We'll be participating in national efforts to collect data on political advertising money in Hawaii media, including station visits to inspect public files. Stay tuned to the page in the next few weeks to learn how you can become involved in our project.