With the 2024 election looming, broadcasters are already receiving requests for political advertising time, from PACs and other issue groups, and from both established candidates and newcomers eager to make an early splash to enhance their public standing.  Some of these potential buyers advance unique policy positions and, sometimes, unusual ad buying strategies.  How are broadcasters to deal with these early political ad buyers? 

Each broadcaster needs to discuss the issues that arise with these early political ads, both internally with their business teams and with their outside FCC counsel or in-house legal advisor.  The first question to ask is whether a station even wants to run these ads.  Ads from non-candidate buyers do not need to be run by stations but, if run, will likely impose some political file obligations on stations to the extent that they discuss candidates, potential candidates, or electoral and political issues (for more on political file issues, see our articles here, here, and here, and this video discussion that I did for the Indiana Broadcasters Association). Continue Reading Broadcaster’s Legal Considerations for Early Season Political Ads

Facebook will disable “new” political ads the week before this year’s November mid-term election (see its post on this policy here), just as many broadcast stations will be struggling with commercial inventory issues, trying to get last minute political ads on the air without having to dump all of their regular commercial advertisers who will be just starting to ramp up their commercial campaigns for the holiday season.  We’ve written previously about how the legal policies that govern Facebook and other online platforms are different than those that govern broadcast, local cable, and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) political ad sales.  Many of the policies adopted by these online platforms could not be adopted by broadcasters, local cable and DBS companies.  In light of Facebook’s recent announcement and the upcoming election, we thought that we would recap some of our previous reviews of this issue.

In June 2021, we wrote about Facebook’s plans to end its policy of not subjecting posts by elected officials to the same level of scrutiny by its Oversight Board that it applies to other platform users.  Facebook’s announced policy has been that the newsworthiness of posts by politicians and elected officials was such that it outweighed Facebook’s uniform application of its Community Standards – although it did make exceptions for calls to violence and questions of election integrity, and where posts linked to other offending content.  Just a year before, there were calls for Facebook to take more aggressive steps to police misinformation on its platforms. These calls grew out of the debate over the need to revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which insulates online platforms from liability for posts by unrelated parties on those platforms (see our article here on Section 230).
Continue Reading Facebook to Reject New Political Ads the Week Before the November Election – Why Broadcasters Can’t Do That

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC this week released a Public Notice announcing that it is soliciting public comment on the recent tests of

Last week, much was made of an FCC Media Bureau decision rejecting the “reasonable access” claim of a write-in candidate for a Congressional seat in Ohio against radio stations which, after initially running his spots, decided to pull those spots because he had not made a “substantial showing” of his candidacy.  Candidates for federal office (the US House of Representatives, the US Senate and for President) are entitled to buy reasonable amounts of commercial time on all broadcast stations, once those candidates are “legally qualified.”  In other words, commercial broadcast stations cannot refuse to run any ads for candidates for any federal elective office.  We wrote more about reasonable access here, including the considerations about how much time is “reasonable.”

In most cases, the question of whether a candidate is legally qualified for FCC purposes is a relatively simple one.  A station looks to see if that candidate has filed the required paperwork and qualified for a place on the election ballot in the district in which they are seeking office.  The case decided last week was one of the hard cases, where the candidate did not qualify for a place on the ballot but argued that he was a write-in candidate for the congressional seat.  The FCC has recognized that write-in candidates can be legally qualified so as to be guaranteed reasonable access and other protections afforded to candidates under FCC rules, including the right to not have their commercial messages censored by the station (see our posts here and here on the no censorship rule) – but they must make a substantial showing that their candidacy is legitimate.  The FCC has recognized that it would put broadcasters in an untenable position if anyone could, on a whim, declare that they are a write-in candidate and therefore be entitled to buy uncensored advertising time (at lowest unit rates in the 45 days before a primary or the 60 days before a general election – see our post here on lowest unit rates) on any commercial broadcast station that they wanted to.  So the FCC requires this substantial showing – and the adequacy of that showing was the issue in last week’s decision, and has been a question that other write-ins have faced in other elections in the past.
Continue Reading Reasonable Access and the Problem Candidate – FCC Declares a Write-In Candidate Not Entitled to Buy Radio Spots, But That May Not Be the End of the Story

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • Broadcast operations that use uninterruptable power supply (UPS) devices as either a primary or backup power source should be alert

The deadline for 2022 candidates in Texas to file for a place on the March 1 primary ballot was this past Monday.  Deadlines in other states will follow during the first part of 2022.  As a result, broadcast stations and cable companies in Texas are already dealing with legally qualified candidates, and the FCC political rules that attach to those candidates.  Stations in other states will follow soon.  Even before these deadlines, stations are dealing with buys from potential candidates, PACs, and other third-party groups looking to establish positions for the important 2022 elections. Spending on political advertising is sure to increase as the new year rolls around, and some suggest that it could rival that spent in 2020. What should broadcast stations be thinking about now to get ready for the 2022 elections?

We have written about some of the issues that broadcasters should already be considering in our Political Broadcasting Guide (which we plan to update shortly). Obviously, one of the primary issues is lowest unit rates, which become effective 45 days before the primaries (or before any caucus which is open to members of the general public). In Texas, those rates will begin in mid-January for the March 1 primary, and lowest unit charge (“LUC”) windows will open in other states throughout the first part of 2022.  With these rate windows soon to be upon us, stations should begin the process of determining what rates will apply during the window, as stations are no doubt now writing packages with spots that will be running during the window.  In addition to our Political Broadcasting Guide, we wrote about other issues you should be considering in determining your lowest unit rates here.  These articles provide just an outline of issues to consider in determining the rates that will apply in the window, so start conversations now with your attorney and political advertising advisors to make sure that these rates are being determined accurately and in compliance with FCC rules and policies.
Continue Reading Candidate Filing Deadline for the Primaries in the Texas 2022 Elections Just Passed – What Should Your Station, No Matter Where It Is, Be Doing to Prepare for the Coming Election Advertising Deluge?

According to press reports (see this story in Verge and this one in the Washington Post), Facebook will end its policy of not subjecting posts by elected officials to the same level of scrutiny by its Oversight Board that it applies to other users of its platform.  Facebook’s announced policy has been that the newsworthiness of posts by politicians and elected officials was such that it outweighed Facebook’s uniform application of its Community Standards – though it did make exceptions for calls to violence and questions of election integrity, and where posts linked to other offending content.  Just a year ago, there were calls for Facebook to take more aggressive steps to police misinformation on its platforms. These calls grew out of the debate over the need to revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which insulates online platforms from liability for posts by unrelated parties on those platforms (see our article here on Section 230). Last year, we compared Facebook’s policy with the laws that apply to other communications platforms, including broadcasters and cable companies.  In light of the potential change in Facebook’s policy, we thought it would be worth revisiting that analysis now.  Here is what we wrote last year:

[In January 2020], the New York Times ran an article seemingly critical of Facebook for not rejecting ads  from political candidates that contained false statements of fact.  We have already written that this policy of Facebook matches the policy that Congress has imposed on broadcast stations and local cable franchisees who sell time to political candidates – they cannot refuse an ad from a candidate’s authorized campaign committee based on its content – even if it is false or even defamatory (see our posts here and here for more on the FCC’s “no censorship” rule that applies to broadcasting and local cable systems).  As this Times article again raises this issue, we thought that we should again provide a brief recap of the rules that apply to broadcast and local cable political ad sales, and contrast these rules to those that currently apply to online advertising.
Continue Reading Reports that Facebook Will End Policy of Not Censoring Politician’s Posts – How Other Communications Platforms are Regulated on Political Speech

After this year’s contentious elections, it is with reluctance that we even broach the subject – but broadcasters and cable companies need to be aware that in many jurisdictions there are elections this November. While most broadcast stations don’t think about the FCC’s political broadcasting rules in odd numbered years, they should – particularly in connection with state and local political offices.  There are elections for governor in November in Virginia and New Jersey, and all sorts of state and local elections in different parts of the country.  These include some mayoral races in major US cities.  Some of these local elections don’t even occur in November – and there are even a few that are taking place as early as next month. As we have written before, most of the political rules apply to these state and local electoral races so broadcasters need to be paying attention.

Whether the race is for governor or much more locally focused, like elections for state legislatures, school boards or town councils, stations need to be prepared. Candidates for state and local elections are entitled to virtually all of the political broadcasting rights of Federal candidates – with one exception, the right of reasonable access which is reserved solely for Federal candidates. That means that only Federal candidates have the right to demand access to all classes and dayparts of advertising time that a broadcast station has to sell. As we wrote in our summary of reasonable access, here, that does not mean that Federal candidates can demand as much time as they want, only that stations must sell them a reasonable amount of advertising during the various classes of advertising time sold on the station. For state and local candidates, on the other hand, stations don’t need to sell the candidates any advertising time at all. But, if they do, the other political rules apply.
Continue Reading Reminder – 2021 Will Include Some Off-Year Elections for State and Local Office – and FCC Political Broadcasting Rules Do Apply

What are a noncommercial broadcaster’s obligations with respect to the political file and the rest of the FCC’s political broadcasting rules?  That is a question that I have heard asked several times in the last few weeks as we approach this most important, and contentious, election.  In short, I think that the answer to this question is that, in most cases, a noncommercial broadcaster will have few if any political file obligations.  Why?

Broadcast stations that are licensed as noncommercial do not have any reasonable access requirements.  What that means is that noncommercial stations do not have any obligation to sell time to political candidates or to make any free time available to the candidates for their messages.  Years ago, reasonable access did apply to noncommercial stations, but when a DC-area congressional candidate used the statutory reasonable access requirements to force a local NPR affiliate (to which many on Capitol Hill listened) to air political commercials, Congress acted to abolish the reasonable access requirement as it applied to noncommercial stations.  So, as noncommercial stations do not need to sell political time to candidates, they are not faced with the political file obligations which have triggered scrutiny from the FCC in recent months.  But that is not to say that there could never be a political file obligation for a noncommercial station.
Continue Reading Noncommercial Broadcasters and the Political File

On January 18, the lowest unit charge window for Presidential primaries or caucuses begins in Super Tuesday states including Alabama, American Samoa (D), Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.  The LUC window opened on January 15 for South Carolina’s Democratic primary and will open on January 23 for stations in Puerto Rico.  Soon behind, on January 25, lowest unit charge windows for presidential contests open in Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota (D), and Washington State.  The window opens on January 27 in the US Virgin Islands and West Virginia. January 29th is the opening of the window for contests in Guam (R), N. Mariana Islands (D) and Wyoming (R).

In these windows, when broadcasters sell time to candidates for ads in connection with the races to be decided on these dates, they must sell them at the lowest rate that they charge commercial advertisers for the same class of advertising time running during the same time period. For more on issues in computing lowest unit rates, see our articles herehere and here (this last article dealing with the issues of package plans and how to determine the rates applicable to spots in such plans), and our Political Broadcasting Guide, here.
Continue Reading Lowest Unit Charge Windows Open in About 30 States and Territories – Reviewing A Broadcaster’s Political Advertising Obligations