Broadcasters to FCC: Act in Our Interest, not the Public Interest


The Sunlight Foundation sent a letter to the FCC urging them to stay strong and adopt transparency rules that would require broadcasters to place their entire “political file” online, rather than bowing to industry demands that a redacted, aggregated version be made available on the Web.

Under the law, broadcasters are required to make public their political file, information including which groups are buying political ads, which candidates the ads support and when and where the ads aired. But for too long, “public” has meant the information has been buried in the file cabinets in the offices of the local broadcasters. Yes, that’s right, in this day of the Internet, if I want to access public information about who is running political ads in the state where grew up, I have to get on a plane to find out.

The FCC is poised to change that. Unfortunately, it seems the broadcasters, ever wary of making anything public, are suggesting that the FCC adopt a bifurcated system where the only information available online would be redacted and aggregated. The detailed information, you know, the stuff that is actually meaningful, would remain on paper, hidden from public view, in a file cabinet somewhere.

Sunlight hopes the FCC will see the broadcasters’ proposal for what it is, a transparent (pardon the pun) effort to keep the public in the dark about who is paying for our elections.

Update: There is no doubt the broadcasters have used all the weapons in their arsenal to convince the FCC to adopt weak disclosure rules. The week before the FCC is scheduled to decide a matter, all contacts with the Commission are prohibited under the FCC’s “Sunshine Rule.” The Sunshine period for the broadcast rule decision begins today, as the issue is supposed to be decided on the 27th. Conveniently, the NAB held their convention from April 14-19 in Las Vegas, and based on FCC ex parte disclosure reports, the broadcasters took the opportunity to make their case to the commissioners in Sin City, getting the last word before the Sunshine Period begins. Not that we are complaining. It’s great that there is such complete disclosure on the FCC’s site. (We only wish Congress would do the same.)

Additionally, in a report today, ProPublic points out the irony of big news outlets that normally demand transparency in this case fighting for secrecy. There’s no question the FCC Commissioners will have gotten the message against transparency loud and clear. We hope they have also heard us.

Sunlight Foundation Letter to FCC on Broadcast Rules