Battle over political ad reporting heats up 

A coalition of public interest groups wants the Federal Communications Commission to improve access to its online political files for TV stations.

Last August, the FCC started requiring broadcast stations in the nation’s top 50 media markets to make their political ad sales data available online. Under the new rule, affiliates of the four major networks—ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox—have to post political files online, allowing anyone to view the amount candidate campaigns and outside groups are spending on political ads.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) opposes the requirement.

Now, the FCC is soliciting comments ahead of the July 2014 deadline for all television stations to begin uploading their political advertising records to the commission’s website.

The Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Effective Government together with Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition (PIPAC), which consists of the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Free Press, the Benton Foundation, the New America Foundation, and the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, made the filing Aug. 26.

The groups say that the requirement for stations to upload their political files has made "effective reporting on electoral and political issues" easier and created "a more open political debate that better informs the public."

But they're still difficult to sift through so the groups suggested the FCC "adopt data standards and require television stations to upload their political files in a machine-readable format." 

"It would allow the public, as well as the Commission, to better monitor broadcast stations compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements," the groups said in the filing.

The public interest groups also noted their opposition to the Television Station Group's 2012 petition for reconsideration, which asked the FCC to give stations an "opt-in opportunity" to upload political ad-buy information but otherwise only require the maintenance of paper records.

"Having potentially two different sets of data (one online and one at the station) makes it very difficult to assess whether a television station is complying with statutory requirements, makes it more cumbersome to analyze or even find the data the person needs, and makes the Commission hosted data less useful and less accurate,” the groups said in the filing.

The ad files are public information, but were previously only available through an in-person request at the broadcast station itself. Publicly available files can be viewed at the FCC’s website.   

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