FCC Denies Stay Of Online Political Rule Enforcement


As expected, the Federal Communications Commission's Media Bureau has denied the National Association of Broadcasters request that it delay implementation of its political file online reporting rules until a federal court hears NAB's challenge to those rules.

The FCC voted in April to require the Big Four network affiliates in the top 50 markets to send the FCC their files, including spot prices and who bought the spots, to the FCC for posting online for all to see. The balance of TV stations must follow suit two years from now, after the FCC has vetted the regime, and sought comment, a year in.

NAB argued that the order was arbitrary and capricious and that broadcasters would suffer irreparable harm because their cable and satellite competition did not have a similar online reporting requirement. The FCC was not persuaded, as it had not been by those broadcaster arguments before it imposed the new rules.

The FCC said broadcasters would not suffer irreparable harm if the stay were not granted because they have to publicize all the same info in their local station files anyway. In addition, says the FCC, broadcasters would still be competitive for ad dollars given their audience reach.

"[B]roadcast television has retained some clout as an effective way to reach large numbers -- not to the extent it has in the past but still more than most cable networks," said the bureau, citing the FCC's own Information Needs of Communities report, the same report that suggested the online file posting. "Thus, television broadcasters' uniquely large audience share will ensure that 'significant ad spending on broadcast television will continue.' Nothing in our rules would change that fact. In addition, "stations are in control of setting lowest unit rates, and have final determination of how low they are willing to set their commercial rates."

On July 17, the FCC will provide a public demonstration of its online political file posting process, and says in the stay denial that is one way it is facilitating the process for broadcasters. It also said it plans on holding webinars on the process and will address any problems that are identified during the testing. "Broadcasters should have sufficient information about the database and time to come into compliance by the August 2, 2012 effective date. Accordingly, we conclude that NAB has failed to show irreparable harm," the FCC said.

As to NAB's argument it is likely to prevail in court on the merits of its challenge, the FCC says that isn't happening. IT also dismisses NAB's argument that the "balance of hardships and the public interest" favor a stay.

The bureau points to public interest group arguments that they would be seriously harmed by having to devote more resources to gathering political ad info from individual stations, as would the public, who would have tough time accessing the info. "We find that the public has a strong interest in implementation of the online public file rules as currently scheduled because these new rules will largely eliminate the substantial expense and inconvenience to the public of traveling to the station and paying for paper copies and greatly enhance transparency in political spending in particular," said the bureau.