Chairman Julius Genachowski tells broadcasters assembled at NAB that the FCC’s plan to require stations to put their political ad files online is “common sense’ and dismisses their objections. For all that’s going on at NAB 2012, click here.
Broadcasters are still hopeful they can deter the FCC from adopting rules later this month that would require them to place their entire political advertising files online.
But they are not nearly as sanquine as they were before FCC Julius Genachowski spoke at the NAB Monday afternoon.
The chairman gave every indication that he plans to move ahead with mandating the new chore as proposed. “Editorial writers have called it ‘an excellent idea’ and encouraged the FCC to put in place,” he said. “It’s the 21st century; I call it common sense.”
Genachowski addressed and dismissed broadcasters’ two major arguments against the idea — that it would be too costly and that it would expose “proprietary” ad rate information, disrupt sales negotiations and hurt their business.
The chairman also gently scolded broadcasters for how they have opposed the requirement.
“Using rhetoric that one writer described as ‘teeth-gnashing’ and ‘fire-breathing,’ some in the broadcast industry have elected to position themselves against technology, against transparency and against journalism.”
Following the speech and his flattering introduction of Genachowski (“he’s a certified smart guy”), NAB President Gordon Smith conceded that the NAB has made little headway in altering Genachowski course.
“We are honestly working with the FCC in good faith on this,” he told reporters. “We have found an open mind to some of our concerns, but we have not come up with a resolution yet.”
The resolution that many broadcasters would like to see is the adoption of a proposal floated by the Television Operator Caucus, a coalition for major station groups. Instead of requiring all political files and the troublesome detailed rate information be put on online, the TOC proposal would require stations to post only regular summaries of how many spots each candidate or PAC are buying and how much they are paying for them.
“We think it’s what the public really needs,” said Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations, and a member of the TOC. “That is what is so disappointing.”
Smith hinted at what might be the basis for a court challenge – that the FCC is overstepping its authority. “We think there is actually a legitimate issue as to whether or not the statute requires us to put [the files] online.”
Genachowski showed no sympathy for the broadcasters’ cost argument. “[T]he facts demonstrate the unsurprising conclusion that the cost of online disclosure is nominal and that, indeed, once the transition from paper to digital is complete it will save money — save money for broadcasters, and for other stakeholders: including political candidates, journalists, and the public at large.”
Genachowski also noted any costs are linked to the political advertising with is estimated to swell to $3 billion this year.
And Genachowski said the argument against posting propriety rate data was equality limp. The law already requires that broadcasters place the political advertising data in the public inspection files that are available to anybody who wants in the front door of a TV station, he said.
The broadcasters’ gripe comes down to saying the data should not be “too public,” he said. “But in a world where everything is going digital, why have a special exemption for broadcasters’ political disclosure obligation?”
In addition to those two unnamed editorial writers, Genachowski cited others who support the online requirement.
He quoted from a statement by deans of leading journalism schools: “Broadcast news organizations depend on, and consistently call for, robust open-record regimes for the institutions they cover; it seems hypocritical for broadcasters to oppose applying the same principle to themselves.
“Bloomberg View looked at the burden and jobs arguments that have been made by opponents of online disclosure and concluded that “neither is credible.
The New Republic examined broadcasters’ position and concluded: ‘The arguments they offer are so flimsy they collapse on inspection.’ ”
Smith acknowledged that opposing the requirement is not easy.
“Who could be against mom, apple pie, the America way and transparency? On the other hand, it is a fundamentally different animal when you keep it in your shop versus when you put it instantaneously in front of the whole world.
“That has the potential then to impact your commercial rates.”
For all that’s going on at NAB 2012, click here.