With the national presidential conventions complete, and most of the state primaries for Congressional, state and local offices either behind us or to occur in the next few weeks, the most concentrated period for the purchase of political advertising on broadcast stations is now upon us. One of the new wrinkles this year that has not captured the attention that it deserves is the political broadcasting issues raised by programmatic buying of advertising time.
The FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Public Notice Thursday seeking comment on a petition for declaratory ruling urging the commission to prohibit stations’ use of the Last-In-First-Out (LIFO) method of selling preemptible advertising time to political candidates or, if not prohibited, to require that stations using the LIFO method always give political candidates preemption priority over commercial advertisers.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Thursday circulated a notice of proposed rulemaking that would require cable, satellite and radio companies to post information about political advertisements online. If the commission approved the measure, it would bring those services in line with broadcast television, which was forced in 2012 to begin posting its information on political ad buys.
We are only weeks away from the 2014 mid-term election. In an election year, I always get a lot of questions about FCC political ad rules, and they come at an ever more furious pace as we get closer to election day. Typically, they run the gamut of political broadcasting issues. This cycle, however, the hands-down winner is how to handle third-party issue ads.
As we move into the final weeks of the election season, and races heat up, there are always issues about attack ads and what a station needs to do when they receive a “take-down” notice from a candidate who is being attacked. However, ads from third parties (PACs, SuperPACs, labor unions, right to life groups and other advocacy organizations) are different. The “no censorship” provisions of the political rules don’t apply, so broadcasters are free to accept or reject third party ads based on the content of the ads.
Every election season there is the same refrain from candidates who are attacked in political ads run on broadcast stations – that ad is unfair and the broadcaster who is running it should take it off the air. What is a broadcaster to do when it gets one of these requests to pull a political ad from the air? Broadcasters need to know the rules so that they don’t pull an ad that they are not allowed to censor under the FCC’s rules, and that they don’t run one for which they could in fact have liability.
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The commission is fielding comments on whether to require that cable and satellite systems post information about political advertising to the commission’s online database.
Currently, TV stations in the top 50 markets affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox are required to post their political file on the FCC’s website. However, this coming July 1 all other full-power TV stations will be under the same posting requirements. Here’s what you need to know to be prepared.