NAB Challenging Constitutionality of FCC’s New Political-Ad Rules

The NAB is challenging the constitutionality of new FCC rules requiring local TV stations to put information about political advertising online

The National Association of Broadcasters is challenging the constitutionality of new FCC rules requiring local TV stations to put information about political advertising online, it said on Tuesday.

The new rules are “arbitrary, capricious, in excess of the commission’s statutory authority, inconsistent with the First Amendment, and otherwise not in accordance with the law,” the NAB said in a May 21 petition at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In the documents the NAB filed with the court, the association did not spell out in detail its specific problems with the regulations adopted by the FCC April 27.

But NAB officials have blasted the regulations publicly for only requiring broadcasters — not cable TV systems or other broadcast station competitors — to disclose political rate information online.

“By forcing broadcasters to be the only medium to disclose on the Internet our political rates, the FCC jeopardizes the competitive standing of stations,” Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman said in an April 27 statement.

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“The public file rules are a common-sense update by the FCC to move from paper to online access to public information in the digital age,” said an FCC spokesman, in a statement of response to the court challenge. “The rules are consistent with Congress’s directive to ensure public availability while providing cost-savings for broadcasters."

“This is nothing more than an attempt by the NAB to stall an important and overdue transparency initiative,” said Corie Wright, senior policy counsel for the watchdog Free Press. “The decision to put the political files online will bring broadcasters into the 21st century, and will make already public information more easily accessible to everyone. The FCC made the right decision, and is on firm legal ground.”

Also read: FCC to TV Stations: Put Political-Ad Information Online (Updated)

Under the FCC’s new rules, TV stations affiliated with the four top TV networks in the nation’s 50 largest markets will be required to file political information online first. All other TV stations would be exempt from the new requirements until July 1, 2014, to give the FCC the opportunity to see how the changes work.

Though FCC rules already require broadcasters to document their political ad sales in publicly accessible files at their stations, interested parties have to visit stations in person to get the data. Under the new requirement, the data would be accessible at the click of a mouse.