Most of the broadcast industry is opposing the new transparency regulations. This is understandable as a reflexive impulse, but it’s still disappointing. Broadcast news organizations depend on, and consistently call for, robust open-record regimes for the institutions they cover; it seems hypocritical for broadcasters to oppose applying the same principle to themselves. The stations’ public “political file” contains vital information about the American political system, since so much of the money in politics goes toward the purchase of broadcast advertising, and the sponsorship information can help make viewers aware that some of what they are seeing and hearing on the air, especially in the realm of health news, is being paid for by highly interested parties.
It won’t impose a crushing burden on the stations if they have to put information they already have online, and it will greatly enhance the public’s knowledge if it becomes possible to see online the kind of information the regulations affect. We strongly urge the FCC to implement the proposed regulations.
Excerpt of a letter from the deans of 12 American Journalism schools to the FCC in support of the commission’s purposed requirement that television stations put information online about political ad buys for local, state and federal elections.
Background, Part 01: Local and national broadcasters are required to keep files about who is buying political advertising from them. These paper files are available to anyone who cares to go down to their local station and ask for a copy. With this thing called the Internet out there, the FCC thinks it a good idea that stations put these records online. Broadcasters disagree.
Background, Part 02: American airwaves — like its parks — are part of the public commons. The US government gives private companies free licenses to broadcast on these airwaves with the understanding that broadcasters would fulfill certain public service requirements.
Background, Part 03: Disclosure advocates argue that transparently providing information about who’s purchasing political advertising, and providing it in an easily accessible manner — ie, online — is part of that public service requirement.
Background, Part 04: It is estimated that local and national broadcasters will make $3 billion selling political ads this year.
Background, Part 05: Broadcasters such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, along with companies that own local stations, are fighting the regulation, claiming that it places an undue economic burden on their operations. Robert McDowell, a Republican FCC commissioner estimates that it could cost the industry $15 million to scan past documents, and each station somewhere north of $120,000 per year to update and maintain the online files. The National Association of Broadcasters says local stations would have “to hire approximately eight more sales personnel on at least a seasonal basis to handle the increased workload.”
Background, Part 06: Writing at the Columbia Journalism Review, Steve Waldman believes these estimates don’t pass the smell test. Not only is there this neat thing called the Internet through which the data can be published, but there are nifty contraptions called document scanners that can process up to 60 pages a minute. “So even if a station has several thousand pages to scan,” he writes, “it would require one person a few hours, not eight people full time for several months.”
Background, Part 07: When in doubt, claim you’re fighting communism. As many have pointed out, Jerald Fritz, senior vice president of Allbritton Communications, which owns six local ABC affiliates as well as Politico, claims that putting the files online “would ultimately lead to a Soviet-style standardization of the way advertising should be sold as determined by the government.”
Foreground: In the meantime, with files locked away in cabinets but available to anyone willing to pound the pavement, ProPublica has begun working with students at Northwestern’s Medill Journalism School to gather information from five local stations in Chicago. They intend to expand the program as the campaign season continues, and crowdsource the effort among the greater public.
A few days ago, Susan King, dean of UNC Chapel Hill’s Journalism School, called for transparency in political ads, a request that has been on the table before, as Steven Waldman broke down back in December.
In late 2011 and early 2012, the Iowa caucus cycle produced 24/7 campaign ads, and some reports indicate that local television broadcasters in the state earned $18 million in campaign advertising. I believe that it is in the interest of the community and the larger political audience to know exactly what a station has earned in an election campaign cycle and to know who purchased those ads. Transparency is the issue here. (via TV News Check)
FJP: Let’s look a little closer at the who question.
This is the first presidential election in which Americans will be inundated with television advertisements aired by Super Political Action Committees. Often negative, these ads frequently mislead voters, provide little or no information, are often inaccurate and reveal the media’s unclean hands when it comes to undermining democracy, observers warn. And it’s about to get worse. The involvement of Super PACs in the 2012 Republican primary contest has skyrocketed with a 1,600 percent increase in interest-group sponsored ads aired as compared to 2008. (via Poynter)
Though super PACs cannot legally coordinate with a candidate’s campaign, past connections to a candidate are likely. But they are big players and as reported by Reuters, they will make broadcasters a lot of money. For more information, see the Free Press’s recent report, Citizens Inundated, in which Timothy Karr writes,
Short of stopping the DVR and freeze-framing the faint disclaimer line at the end of the commercials, there is very little to help consumers differentiate Super PAC ads from those sponsored by candidates.
FJP: On that note, see these tips on how to watch Super PAC ads:
This week, the free and open Internet millions of Americans have come to depend on is under attack.
In a procedural move, Senate Republicans are trying to overturn the rules that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put in place late last year to help protect net neutrality — the simple idea that all content and applications on the Internet should be treated the same, regardless of who owns the content or the website. The House already pushed through this dangerous legislation, which would effectively turn control of the Internet over to a handful of very powerful corporations.
I sincerely hope the Senate doesn’t follow suit, and I’m doing everything I can to make sure this terrible legislation never reaches the President’s desk.
While millions of Americans have become familiar with the concept of net neutrality, it’s important that we’re all on the same page. Net neutrality isn’t a government takeover of the Internet, as many of my Republican colleagues have alleged. It isn’t even a change from what we have now. Net neutrality has been in place since the very beginning of the Internet.
We don’t have a content crisis; we don’t have a news crisis; we have an accountability reporting crisis.
A smartphone generates 24 times the mobile data traffic of a conventional wireless phone, and the explosively popular iPad and similar tablet devices can generate traffic comparable to or even greater than a smartphone…
…In just the first five-to-seven weeks of 2015, AT&T expects to carry all of the mobile traffic volume it carried during 2010.
Athima Chansanchai, MSNBC, iPhone, iPad maxed out AT&T network.
In ATT’s Filing with the FCC regarding its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile the company basically admits it’s pursuing the deal because it can’t handle currently network demands.
Some advocacy groups oppose the deal, saying it will lead to a monopoly.