To help broadcasters sort out the confusing rules about political advertising, we have updated our Political Broadcasting Guide for Broadcasters (note that the URL for the updated version has not changed from prior versions, so your bookmarks should continue to work). The revised guide is much the same as the one that we published two years ago, formatted as Questions and Answers to cover many of the issues that come up for broadcasters in a political season. This guide is only that – a guide to the issues and not a definitive answer to any of the very fact-dependent legal issues that arise in election season. But we hope that this guide at least provides a starting point for the analysis of issues, so that station employees have a background to discuss these matters with ad buyers and their own attorneys.
In looking at the Guide that we prepared two years ago, really not much has changed. But there are some specific updates that should be noted. For instance, sponsorship identification seems to be a hot issue in the last two years. We wrote here about the $540,000 fine paid as part of a consent decree when a Cumulus radio station did not fully identify the sponsor of advertising on a controversial issue of public importance. We have also written here and here about issues that are currently pending at the FCC about the proper sponsorship identification tag that belongs on an ad paid for by a PAC that is funded by one individual. This is an issue to which stations should be alert. The online public file for radio is mentioned, as this will affect how radio broadcasters maintain their political file starting at some point later this year (see our article here about the online public file requirements for radio broadcasters). Also, we note the adoption by many stations of programmatic selling, and suggest that stations need to carefully review how these sales platforms may impact lowest unit rate issues. We have made some other clarifications and revisions as well.
Again, this Guide is just a starting place for analyzing political broadcasting issues, but we hope that many broadcasters find it to be helpful in giving them some of the tools that are needed to analyze the complex questions that come up during this election year. In the past few months, I have been a part of a number of seminars on these rules (see, for instance, this article for the slides outlining a broadcaster’s obligations from one such presentation). I will also be part of another discussion at the NAB Convention in Las Vegas in April. We trust that these efforts will assist broadcasters in coping with this very active political year.