May 22, 2012 5:23 pm ET
The National Association of Broadcasters sued the Federal Communications Commission today, arguing that the regulatory body has visited "arbitrary" and "capricious" harm upon the broadcasters it represents, curtailed their First Amendment rights, and broken the law.
What heinous crime did the FCC perpetrate? They required broadcasters to publish online information disclosing the rates they charge for political advertisements -- information that they are already required to make available to the public.
The rule hasn't taken effect yet and broadcasters outside the top 50 media markets have a two-year exemption, but nonetheless the NAB -- on whose board sit executives from virtually every major broadcast company -- is claiming injury and asking the DC Court of Appeals to vacate the rule. Their filing doesn't cite any specific injury, nor does it offer an explanation as to how the rule is "inconsistent with the First Amendment."
Prior to the rule's passage, broadcast stations were required to maintain physical records of political ad data and make them available for public inspection upon request. Nearly every major media company lobbied hard against the new rule requiring the data to be published online, as Pro Publica documented:
The industry's opposition to the transparency proposal has sometimes been heated. In filings submitted to the FCC in January and March, Allbritton Senior Vice President Jerald Fritz raised the specter of "'Soviet-style standardization" of ad sales if political ad files are required to be put online in a single format.
In a February meeting with the FCC, Walt Disney executives complained about the "logistics and burden" of putting the political ad information online.
That month, executives from Disney, NBC and News Corp. argued in a meeting with FCC officials that posting the political ad data would allow "competitors in the market and commercial advertisers [to] anonymously glean highly sensitive pricing data."
Those arguments were rejected by the FCC, which said that a commission-hosted online database "will improve the public's access to information and facilitate dialogue between broadcast stations and the communities they serve." The commission also said the rule will ultimately save broadcasters time and money, as they will no longer need to maintain a paper file for all the documents.
Reacting to the NAB filing, Corie Wright of Free Press whacked the broadcasters association for trying to "stall an important and overdue transparency initiative."
Copyright © 2010 Media Matters for America. All rights reserved.