Scripps Responds to Complaint About Political Advertising Disclosure

By Kevin Eck 

E.W. Scripps said today a group that complained to the FCC about how its Cincinnati station handles its public file should have checked with it first.

Last week, four groups represented by the Institute for Public Representation of Georgetown University Law Center filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission asking it to take action against ABC affiliate WCPO for failing to comply with public file requirement of Section 315 of the Communications Act. The groups also went after Chairman Tom Wheeler for “doing ‘absolutely nothing’ to enforce public file rules.”

In the complaint, Section 315 is defined as requiring “broadcast licensees maintain records regarding any request to purchase broadcast time that ‘communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance, including a legally qualified candidate; any election to Federal office; or a national legislative issue of public importance.'”

“The complaint demonstrates that 16 of WCPO’s 17 filings pertaining to 2016 non-candidate issue ads were incomplete or inaccurate with regards to the requirements of Section 315,” said the filing. “Moreover, the complaint also shows that another station in the same market, WLWT(TV), easily performed the necessary due diligence to comply with the rules with respect to several of the very same ads.”

“The public file requirements of the Communications Act play an important role in providing transparency in our electoral system, especially post-Citizens United,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center. “As the number of super PACs buying up television and radio airtime increases, the transparency of who is behind political ads is becoming increasingly murky. It is the FCC’s responsibility to ensure stations disclose information about who pays for advertisements. The FCC, in its failure to enforce laws that protect voters’ right to know, has clearly led broadcasters to freely ignore existing regulations with impunity.”

“We are disappointed those filing the complaint did not first contact the station,” said Scripps chairman, president and CEO Rich Boehne. “Had they done so, we could have helped them locate the information they were looking for and addressed any concerns. As stewards of the First Amendment, Scripps supports the FCC’s goal of providing viewers, advertisers and other concerned citizens with transparency as it relates to the purchase of political advertising.”