Political Files? Meet the Internet

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that television stations must enter the 21st century and put the information in their public and political files online. Now anyone with an Internet connection will be able to access information about who is spending all that money on political advertising. The files will also allow us to see how stations are serving — or failing to serve — community needs.

The FCC’s decision is a triumph of advocacy (and logic) that deserves celebration. After years of debate, hundreds of pages in legal filings and thousands of activists speaking out, the FCC did right by the public in recognizing the importance of making this information easily accessible.

This is a huge victory for the public interest and a critical breakthrough for transparency in an election year. At a time when wealthy special interests are trying to buy elections, we now have a means to figure out how much they’re spending on these ads, and where.  

Well, for the most part.

The FCC decision temporarily exempts many stations in key battleground states — like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — where some of the political ad spending will be at its highest. Only major-network stations in the nation’s top 50 broadcast markets will be required to post their political files online this year. Viewers in the rest of the country — there are 210 broadcast markets in the U.S. — will have to wait two years for their stations to put this information online. So for now — in the thick of an election year — people outside the top 50 markets will still have to drive down to their local stations and dig through file cabinets to access the same information.

Our friends at the Sunlight Foundation have created this handy map that shows which communities will not have immediate online access to their stations’ political files. This summer, Free Press will be working with our members, volunteers, journalists and allies across the country to inspect political files and post our findings online. If you’d like to join us, you can sign up here.

Only stations in the areas indicated in green below will be required to post their political files online.

If you’d like to support our effort to inspect political files nationwide, please consider a donation to the Free Press Action Fund. Thank you.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good