Requiring Local TV Stations to Disclose Political Ad Buys Online

Friday, January 06, 2012


Local television stations are required to maintain a public file of political ad sales, and allow any member of the public to inspect it–as long as they physically come in to the station.  To make the information more accessible, the Federal Communications Commission is proposing regulations that would require local broadcasters to put the public file online.  Bob speaks to former FCC adviser Steven Waldman, who says that putting the information online is the least that broadcasters can do to fulfill their public interest obligations.

Comments [10]

Isabella M. from Philadelphia, PA

I was very disappointed in hearing the sarcasm in the interviewer's voice when discussing the upcoming passing of the Sunshine Act. Real news should be impartial regardless of the interviewer's opinion of doctors. I am not a physician but am related to several of them and I know how hard they work and the sacrifices they make each day. And to attack them saying that pharm companies sway all of them and they all make hundreds of thousands of dollars really is false and giving the public the wrong impression. I am deeply angered by the quality and content of your interview. Shame on NPR to sway your listeners by your own ignorance and bad attitude toward physicians. Why not research how much business companies give other business associates in monetary perks as well as trips to the Bahamas? Or hey, how about discussing the ridiculous amounts of money going into the political campaigns that "citizens" (a.k.a. massive companies) give to political candidates directly and indirectly???? Why pick on a group which is already being sued into bankruptcy, paying back massive medical school loans, having difficulty attracting bright American students to pursue a medical career, paying hundreds of thouseands of dollars in malpractice insurance, and working their tails off 365 days year to keep you and me healthy? Why not disclose the monentary support you and NPR receive from private donors and how much your CEO/president makes? I guess doctors are an easy target. You do not rely on doctors for financial support I guess. Honestly, the hypocrisy is frightening.

Jan. 22 2012 12:23 PM

I also got incensed listening to this interview. Mr. Goodman was given way too much time to review his talking points. Wouldn't one use of this data in the public interest be to see if national networks are exercising any bias in how they sell airtime? Mr. Garfield, why didn't you prepare any such what ifs in your interview? As for the IT arguments, what decade is Mr. Goodman living in? I imagine he's never seen a computer.

Jan. 19 2012 05:24 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Ms, Haynes' comments are spot on. While none of the media organs for which I worked ever sold political ads, from word of mouth I knew those that did made hay when the sunshine of politics shone on them.

So, in 1989, when I did traipse into WTNH asking to see their public file I did not, to their surprise, look at ad info. I just demanded the time of an important staffer to oversee me to make sure that I didn't take anything physically out of the file. It was not, as I claimed, pay back for unfair coverage of the Green Party's recent campaign, which I had managed. What it did do was assure coverage of an anti-Apartheid event at the CT Tennis Center at Yale featuring lying S. African tennis players who needed to be pressured to speak out at the unspeakable, as they had promised. It worked!

Jan. 11 2012 02:18 PM
Mary from Milwaukee from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Dear Mr. Garfield,
Could you please not use the expression (which you used in this segment) which relates to "having a dog in the fight?"
I find it odd that something that is a felony in all 50 states (see humane society web site) is so casually referred to.....and, yes, I am questioning your "moral purity" (see transcript of interview re: dogfighting app. earlier this year.)

Jan. 08 2012 07:21 PM
Jonathan Ragan-Kelley from Cambridge, MA

I think Bob missed responding to a critical point in the NAB representative's claims relative to the changing landscape brought by Citizen's United:

While they are required to offer some discount on advertising time to candidates for political office, this presumably does not apply to SuperPAC advertising. This means that the windfall they are getting because of unlimited SuperPAC spending is *not* subject to the discounts he claimed were a key part of the service they offer public in return for their use of spectrum.

Jan. 08 2012 02:33 PM
Edward Cheadle from Salt Lake City

I was angered by the NAB lawyer's tone and arrogance and had started an emotional response. On the media prides itself on it's civility and reasonableness. It is a primary reason I listen to On the Media instead of the incendiary ramblings of other sit and shout so called news programs.

Robert and Beth point out the obvious flaw in the Lawyer's statement. Everything is handled electronically these days and it would be trivial to make the data available. Even if there are pieces of paper they can be scanned and stored cheaper than they can be kept as paper. I have nearly thirty years in the Information Technology business. The NAB lawyer may be an ace when it comes to law, but his understanding of technology is zero.

It is hard to believe NAC Lawer is so ignorant. Obviously he is motivated to make his point irrespective of the facts.

Jan. 08 2012 01:23 PM
Jay from 19460

Cost to comply with the proposed "instant" disclosures was a complain by NAB members, but neither the program host nor his guests provided any actual dollar figures, nor hours of work, at what pay rate(s) that a station might have to spend to comply. So, ironically, there was no disclosure of the actual costs. Maybe there are estimates in the proposal, or in the staff research, but none of that was included in the broadcast; why not? Nor were any cost per minute figures disclosed for what radio and/or TV stations charge. So we don't know how much cost or profit is involved. Time may be at a premium on radio shows, but costs are at the heart of the reluctance complaint by broadcasters, and that was foreseeable by the producers and editors. If it turns out that a station can spend per year the cost of one minute of TV time, by hiring a $15/hour clerk, then the complaint would be quantifiable as ridiculously low. When will you revisit this topic with actual figures as suggested above?

Jan. 08 2012 11:34 AM
Nancy Haynes from Charlotte NC

I have purchased political airtime over the past several decades, including schedules for federal candidates. I hereby call BS on the NAB spokesperson who claimed that TV stations sell time to politicians at a discount. In the political "windows" – i.e., 45 days before the primary and 60 days before the general election – stations routinely RAISE their rates for EVERYONE so that they do not have to discount for political candidates. Therefore, local advertisers suffer. In federal election years, I keep my clients off TV – not only because of the high prices but also because of the negativity. It's bad enough to have a client's message sandwiched between two screaming car dealers. Landing between two attack ads would be beyond the pale. Nancy Haynes, Principal; Collins, Haynes & Lully Advertising; Charlotte NC

Jan. 08 2012 07:28 AM
Beth Peterson

Jack Goodman's responses to Bob's questions were either remarkably uninformed about the nature of data collection, aggregation, and dissemination in the digital age, particularly for a person in his field, or were deliberately misleading. I tend to be willing to give people the benefit of the doubt but find it hard to believe Goodman is so ignorant of the way the world works.

Jan. 07 2012 02:08 PM
Robert Gray from Boston

I challenge the NAB lawyer given air time to produce a single commercial radio or TV station using a paper traffic department or billing function. The notion that an Internet presentation of political sales data originates from a costly paper system is an outright lie (civil enough?). All the the data entry, operations, verification and analytics are computerized - and have been for DECADES. In fact, shifting the legal requirement from paper to on-line would, in-general be a cost-reduction re-engineering. One more set of lies allowed to go un-questioned by the media. Let the truth be revealed - even if it is that the sales-data is considered to be competitive, proprietary by the broadcasters.

Jan. 07 2012 01:54 PM

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