Robert Bush 11:18 p.m., May 25
Local TV Station Fights Proposed FCC Disclosure Rules
Four television broadcasters, including San Diego’s KUSI, have filed a protest to a new proposed Federal Communications Commission rule that would make it easier for the public to discover whether stations are engaging in “pay to play,” a tactic that allows advertisers to dictate or sometimes even provide content to be aired on local news broadcasts.
Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Steven Waldman, author of a FCC study titled "Information Needs of Communities" which led to the introduction of the disclosure rule, argues against the claims of KUSI and company that the proposed change “provide[s] no clear new benefit to the public,” and that “the PIF should not become a general research tool.” The PIF in question is the public inspection file that all stations are required to keep and make available upon demand.
In essence, the rule would require records to be made available to consumers and researchers online, rather than forcing a trip to the station. Broadcasters say that this would be “extremely burdensome” and argue that “there is no certainty that the theoretical media research will ever occur.”
They instead suggest that members of the public interested in whether a portion of a “news” broadcast was actually undisclosed advertising should watch the credits at the end of the program, observe the sponsors, and thus draw their conclusions.
Waldman cites numerous examples of unethical behavior he believes the public has a right to easier access in discovering. A Wisconsin hospital paid a station to report on a list of pre-selected medical topics, only allowing its own employees to be interviewed on screen for the segments.
A Florida station allegedly charged a fee to be an interview subjects on its news broadcasts. And there have been many examples of public relations companies preparing “video news releases” that have been aired across the country without any disclosure of their promotional nature.
While the FCC is not attempting to ban or even restrict these practices, its new online disclosure rule seeks only to increase transparency for consumers. The organization is taking comments on the proposal from the public and broadcasters through January 6.