Broadcasters Take FCC to Court Over Political Ad Disclosure Rule

NAB alleges rule is 'arbitrary and capricious'

Broadcasters wasted no time challenging the Federal Communications Commission's recent rule requiring TV stations to put their political advertising files online.

The National Association of Broadcasters filed an appeal in the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia yesterday, asking that the court review the rule.

In the notice of appeal, the NAB alleges that the FCC's rule is "arbitrary, capricious, in excess of the commission's statutory authority, inconsistent with the First Amendment, and otherwise not in accordance with law." The NAB is requesting that the court rule it unlawful and set aside the FCC order.

Broadcasters fought hard against the rule up to the last minute, arguing that moving the political advertising rates from paper files to online would skew the market by giving other local media outlets a competitive advantage and commercial advertisers new negotiating leverage. Dismissing those arguments, the Democrats on the commission, led by chairman Julius Genachowski, pushed the rule through in late April with the lone Republican commissioner voting against it.

"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 responding to the NAB's case. "The rules are consistent with Congress' directive to ensure public availability while providing cost savings for broadcasters."

The NAB filed just days after the FCC's rule was printed in the Federal Register. But unless a stay is granted, the rule (which still needs approval by the Office of Management and Budget) is likely to be a factor in this year's presidential election—exactly what Democrats wanted to achieve ever since the 2010 Citizens United case.

The broadcasters' case could also be held up if another party files a petition for reconsideration with the FCC. Those are due at the FCC on June 11. If that happens, the court is likely to leave the matter with the FCC until the commission rules, causing headaches for both TV broadcasters and local advertising buyers alike.