Group Takes Initiative, Gathers Political TV Ad Data From Stations

Group Takes Initiative, Gathers Political TV Ad Data From Stations With a presidential election approaching, political advertising scrutiny should reach a four-year high within the next seven months. Rest assured, as long as Pro Publica has its say, the public will have their advertising data from individual TV stations - whether the stations like it or not.

Deadline reports that the activist journalist organization has figured out on its own just the route around the Federal Communication Commission's quandary concerning whether individual TV stations' political advertising data should be made available online. Deciding that if one wants something done right, one must do it oneself, the group has engaged  operatives to personally visit TV stations and make copies of data stations must by law commit to paper. The operatives then take the data that already must be public in one form and put it online themselves.

"These paper files contain detailed data on all political ads that run on the channel, such as when they aired, who bought the time and how much they paid," said a Pro Publica spokesperson. "It's a transparency gold mine, allowing the public to see how campaigns and outside groups are influencing elections."

The FCC apparently collectively approves of the approach, too. The regulatory body is reportedly weighing a proposal to force stations to put the data online and start saving the Pro Publica operatives their effort. Representatives from 12 college journalism programs have told the FCC that stations' files contain "vital information about the American political system."

Station owners aren't so collectively thrilled. Allbritton Communications fears a "Soviet-style standardization of the way advertising should be sold as determined by the government" that could result from such mandatory disclosure. There's also the matter of who really holds sway over the flow of that information: the Federal Election Commission or the FCC? There's a fear among representatives from Disney, NBC Universal and News Corp are concerned that competitors peeking at one another's advertising records could have a detrimental impact on competitive pricing among stations.