FCC Updates Political Rules Requiring Stations to List All Issue in Political Buys by Third Parties

Last year the FCC enacted new rules with respect to political advertising purchased by non-candidate third parties. The new rules imposed significant burdens on stations to list all issues of “national importance” that were raised in these advertisements. The new rules did not apply to political advertisements purchased by the candidates themselves.

NYSBA along with other state broadcast associations, the NAB and numerous parties filed with the FCC to reconsider its decision.  Last week the FCC issued a decision with clarifies its previous decision.

First the FCC’s decision  made crystal clear that the enhanced issue disclosure obligations apply only to third party issue ads that discuss federal elections or candidates or issues of national legislative importance.  It does not affect stations’ obligations with respect to candidate ads.

Second, the Commission will apply its normal practice of accepting the reasonable good faith judgment of stations in complying with the new rules in this area.  Thus, the good faith standard will apply to identifying ads that raise issues requiring enhanced disclosure, identifying national political issues in those ads, and the use of common acronyms in political files. The FCC noted:

“[W]e will apply a standard of reasonableness and good faith to broadcasters in (1) determining whether, in context, a particular issue ad triggers disclosure obligations under section 315(e)(1)(B) of the Act; (2) identifying and disclosing in their online political files all political matters of national importance that are referenced in each issue ad; and (3) determining whether it is appropriate to identify an issue advertiser or provide other information relating to an issue ad using an acronym or other abbreviated notation.”

Applying the “good faith” standard will help stations with respect to any errors in judgment.  It does not, however, mean that stations can simply forego reviewing copy or letting the advertisers decide what issues should be disclosed in the public file.  Stations are still obligated to list all issues of national importance that are contained in the advertisements purchased by non-candidate third parties. The Commission’s decision merely gives stations a possible defense of having acted reasonably and in good faith.

To see the FCC decision click HERE.


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