WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – Broadcasters can add a new regulation to follow when airing political advertisements.
Federal Communications Commission has now ruled that all stations, both TV and radio, must keep an extensive
record of all political ads that are aired. While it may seem like the stations
do so already, the recordkeeping that was being done before was too lax for
activist groups that wanted to monitor the funds of various political campaigns,
resulting in complaints filed against 12 TV stations in 2014.
While this may
seem like a long time, it’s par for the course where the FCC is concerned.
taking a year or more is common,” Scott Flick, an attorney who practices
communications law at the Pillsbury firm, told Legal Newsline.
decision was made by the Media Bureau of the FCC, which is made up of
FCC employees. Usually in cases like this, the commissioners
of the FCC would each vote on whether to put new orders or laws forth
for broadcast stations.
for the FCC, the commissioners no longer have a tie-breaking vote due to the
departure of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
This leaves the FCC with just four commissioners, leaving room for 2-2 ties.
for the order for broadcast stations to keep a more extensive record all
political advertisements aired, it may cause more of a headache for
broadcasters and the FCC with the amount of room people have to file complaints
under the improved system.
To start with, all the big news channels (i.e. ABC,
CBS, NBC) have affiliate stations at the state level and in various cities
across America. Another key component of the recordkeeping is that all
political ads featuring issues that are of importance at the national level
must also be filed. Otherwise, a station could receive a complaint for not
focusing enough on national issues while campaign ads are being run.
the difference between national and local issues appears to be cut-and-dry,
that is no longer the case. Social media can quickly turn a local issue into a
national issue. For example, the failed Heartbeat Bill in the Ohio State House
quickly became a focus of the American people after news of it spread across
social media like wildfire.
line between what is local and what is national is greatly devolved,” said
is also unclear when the FCC will be back to making decisions instead of having
the Media Bureau doing it. One of the other commissioners, Tom Wheeler, will also
be stepping down after Inauguration Day. This will leave the FCC with only
While this would be enough to break ties, a unanimous vote
would still be required because there are less than five commissioners left. The
current president-elect will have to pick two more people, and they would have
to be confirmed by the Senate.
won’t be up to full commissioning strength until May or June,” said Flick.
is clear is that this new order for broadcast stations is going to cause a lot
of paperwork. While some people just view paperwork as a nuisance, the amount
of paperwork that can be generated over one campaign ad, let alone an entire
election year, could yield more problems than solutions.
expands what they have to do,” said Flick. “The more things they have to put
into paperwork, the more mistakes can be made.”
is also unclear how this new order for broadcast stations will help the
American people, he said. While having more information about where a politician is
getting donations from is good, it’s not clear how having broadcast stations
monitor it would help, versus the Federal Election Commission putting something
into place instead.
“It’s creating paperwork
for the sake of paperwork,” said Flick. “The FEC should regulate the flow of
money, not leave the burden on the broadcasters.”