Meritless Complaints and Online Public Files

Posted on September 22nd, 2014 by

When the FCC pushed through online public files for TV stations, one of the concerns raised was that they could subject stations to meritless complaints. To be clear, even when someone files a complaint that has no merit whatsoever, the station has to defend itself and that costs money.

We now have a case-in-point. Several “public interest” groups, from the comfort of their easy chairs, poked around in a few TV stations’ online public files and came up with the argument that the stations had not properly disclosed the identity of an entity that had paid for the broadcast of an “issue” ad. According to the groups, the stations should have dug a little deeper to find out who the real sponsor of the ad was. According to the FCC, that was not required, although it did say that if the groups had brought the info to the station’s attention, a different outcome might have resulted.

With the advent of online public files, those with agendas in the political or public arena have a virtual treasure trove of opportunity to wage proxy wars and put pressure using information required to be placed in public inspection files. TV stations are caught in the middle. We anticipate more of these in the future, and not just on political issues. Sigh.