Thursday, April 26, 2012

More on those TV campaign ads

Federal broadcast law requires TV stations to make available records of who buys campaign ads, for how much, and how often they air. But it only requires the stations to allow examination of paper records at their offices during business offices. This is not information that politicians, political consultants, and/or broadcasters divulge happily.

The non-profit investigative journalism outfit ProPublica has been encouraging student reporters and others to test how local outlets comply with the law. The stations are mighty reluctant. In Cleveland, three of four broadcasters refused a student TV crew's request to film their attempt to look at files. Moreover,

the stations also said copying the documents would cost 50 cents per page (over four times what FedEx Office charges), so the students couldn't afford to copy them all.

ProPublica is looking for volunteers to join the "Free the Files" project. "You do not need to be part of an organization or university to participate." Sign up here.

UPDATE: The FCC has voted to require stations to post ad purchase records to a national database, though only as .pdf files. And not for all stations this year. But there is progress toward transparency.

Just for fun, here's what one of my ancestors might have run if he'd had TV available for campaign spots in 1800.

In real life, lacking television, Thomas Jefferson paid newspapers and individual writers to tell wild lies about the incumbent Adams. Adams' party thought these "subversives" should be jailed. But they and their candidate lost out in the court of last resort -- public opinion -- and democracy survived and free speech thrived.

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