The San Antonio Express discovered something troubling in FCC records this week: Dallas television station WFAA deleted its 2014 political public file from the FCC site.
It’s concerning because the top-rated station in the fifth largest television market in the country received advertising for the governor’s race during that period. Information about the money spent on advertising in that race should be available to the 2.6 million people served by the Dallas television market as well as to the country as a whole.
A representative for the station told the Express that station employees misunderstood instructions from their attorney and were in the process of re-uploading the 2014 information to the FCC. However, the report indicates that the 2012 and 2013 reports were also deleted. Those would have included information about the last presidential cycle.
The file contains detailed information about advertising contracts that are not just useful in civil discourse but for researchers in the future.
While the station was legally in the wrong to delete the 2014 records, the FCC does allow records to be removed after two years. However, even though they’re legally permitted to delete the records, it’s not required, and it’s troubling to see that any station would and did. This data has research value and is valuable to voters, political historians and journalists alike.
Television stations, especially those who operate newsrooms, serve the public. In light of that commitment, stations should be looking for ways to make more, not less, information available to the public.