FCC passes political ad rule for TV stations

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved a controversial rule that will require television broadcasters to publish data about political advertising online.

Chairman Julius Genachowski (D) was joined by his Democratic colleague, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, in voting to approve the order. Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell voted in part to approve the requirement that public files be posted online, but he opposed extending the requirement to political data. 

The online database created by the rule is likely to reveal how much candidates pay for the spots that dominate TV networks in election years.

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Broadcasters will only have to upload the political files going forward. Obtaining files that predate the order will require an in-person visit to the stations. 

Additionally, for the first two years, the political requirements will be limited to stations affiliated with ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox, which are licensed to serve communities in the top 50 Nielsen Designated Market Areas.

Broadcasters were already required to keep records of political spending on advertising but didn't have to post them online.

Watchdog groups hope the rule will shed light on the big money behind political ad campaigns. The 2012 election is likely to bring an explosion of outside spending, with much of it going toward television ads.

But broadcasters strongly oppose the rule, arguing it is burdensome and will be costly to carry out.

Genachowski has said the rule is part of the commission's effort to increase transparency and put more information online.