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FCC Requires Local TV Stations to Disclose Political Ads

Ingram Publishing(WASHINGTON) -- Local TV stations will be required to post information on the political ads they run, including rates, to a public database, the Federal Communications Commission ruled Friday.

How will this work? The FCC will host an online database making available information about political ads running on local affiliates of the four major TV networks in the top 50 markets, according to the FCC. The database will be available 30 days after the Office of Management and Budget approves the new policy.

“The new rule covers about 60 percent of all expected 2012 political advertising on local spot TV, where the vast majority of televised political ads air. The remaining 40 percent will occur in smaller media markets and thus remain offline this year, disclosed in the public files made available at stations,” the Kantar Media Group’s CMAG ad-tracking service wrote in an executive summary of Friday’s ruling.

The newly public information is notoriously difficult to access. Local TV affiliates already make it publicly available, but only in paper copies at the stations themselves. For years, reporters and watchdog groups have had to travel to TV stations and examine records in person when seeking detailed information.

Broadcasters opposed the ruling, citing costs of disclosure and competition with other media forms. Television stations under federal law are required to offer political candidates the lowest available advertising rates.

The FCC is made up of three commissioners, two of which were appointed by President Obama. Robert McDowell, the lone Republican appointee who was originally appointed by George W. Bush and reappointed by Obama in 2009, dissented from the decision.

Broadcasters will have to disclose the rates they charge for political ads, which are often lower than the rates charged to other advertisers. CMAG speculated that this was a major reason broadcasters opposed the move.

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had called for the online disclosure.

The FCC’s move will give the public a far more granular picture of where and how political money is being spent.

Currently, it’s very difficult to tell when and how political campaigns are spending money on advertisements. Outside groups–including super PACs and 501(c)4s–are subject to greater transparency. Those groups disclose ad spending to the FEC within 48 hours of purchasing air time, and the FEC reports it online almost immediately.

Campaigns, however, only disclose spending once a month -- meaning that candidates themselves largely evade scrutiny on how much they’re spending at any given time. By the time the public finds out, the data is already a month old. Still, with this new FCC ruling, that will change.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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