LAS VEGAS — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said broadcasters who resist the regulatory agency's efforts requiring television stations to put detailed information online about political advertising are "against technology, against transparency and against journalism."
Genachowski, speaking at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention here, was making the case for a proposal that the FCC will vote on later this month that would require stations to post online the rates they charge politicians for commercials.
Congress already requires TV stations to make such information available to the public, but the idea of moving it from the file cabinet to the Internet is proving to be a hard sell with broadcasters.
"Despite the proud history of broadcast journalism and the many innovative products broadcasters deploy today to harness digital technology to inform, explain as well as entertain, broadcasters and a few others have strongly resisted online disclosure," Genachowski said.
The FCC chairman also took issue with those who have questioned whether the agency has the authority to force broadcasters to disclose what a candidate paid for a specific ad.
"Congress explicitly requires broadcasters to 'maintain, and make available for public inspection, a complete record of a request to purchase broadcast time that is made by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate,'" Genachowski told a packed room, adding that the FCC is "explicitly charged" with enforcing those rules.
Initially, only TV stations that are affiliates of or owned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the top-50 markets will be required to put political spending data on the Web. The new rule, if passed, would go into effect by late summer or early fall at the latest, still in time for the 2012 general election.
Other stations in smaller markets around the country would have up to two years after the rule change goes into effect to post political advertising information online.
Many broadcasters are against disclosing specific commercial rates online for fear it will hurt them competitively. Even though such information is already available to the public, NAB President Gordon Smith said "it is a fundamentally different thing when you keep it in your station versus putting it online." Smith, a former Republican senator from Oregon, added that if the FCC wants full transparency, then cable and online platforms should also be required to disclose commercial rates.
Alan Frank, the president of Post-Newsweek Stations, said broadcasters are trying to find a compromise by providing information on how much candidates and political action committees spend on TV stations without saying what specific shows were bought at what price.
"We think it will create more confusion than it will help," Frank said of providing the nitty-gritty of specific program rates. He questioned the significance of whether a spot was bought on the "six o' clock news" or on "Wheel of Fortune."
Broadcasters seem resigned to the increasing likelihood that they will lose this battle.
"Who can be against mom, apple pie and the American way of transparency?" cracked Smith.
— Joe Flint