As you may recall, late last year NAB, along with other TV broadcasters, filed petitions for reconsideration of three FCC political file orders that had increased broadcast stations’ obligations to collect and disclose information about political advertisements. I am very pleased to report that the Commission unanimously
those petitions in part earlier this afternoon.
Specifically, as NAB and broadcasters had requested, the FCC clarified that its October 2019 political file order was and is limited to requests for the purchase of broadcast time by issue advertisers whose commercials communicate a message relating to any political matter of national importance, not to requests for the purchase of broadcast time by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office. The FCC also clarified that it was and is the agency’s intention to apply a standard of reasonableness and good faith decision-making with respect to broadcasters’ efforts in: (a) determining whether, in context, a particular issue ad communicates a “message relating to any political matter of national importance,” thereby triggering disclosure obligations under the Communications Act and FCC rules; (b) identifying and disclosing in their online political files all political matters of national importance that are referenced in each issue ad; and (c) determining when it is appropriate to use acronyms or other abbreviations in their online political files when disclosing information about issue ads. The FCC stressed that its political file orders did not and do not impose an actual or effective strict liability regime on broadcasters.
In addition, the FCC’s consideration order expressly rejected suggestions by certain public advocacy groups that stations should never use acronyms or abbreviations in their political files. The FCC noted that certain organizations were widely known by their acronyms (e.g., NFL) and that other organizations had legally changed their names to an acronym (e.g., AARP). Thus, the Commission granted NAB’s request that the FCC defer to broadcasters’ reasonable, good faith judgment as to whether the general public would readily comprehend the meaning of an acronym or abbreviation.