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FCC Rejects NAB Petition to Stay Public Inspection File Rule

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission has denied a petition from the National Association of Broadcasters to stay the new rule requiring TV stations to post their public inspection files online. NAB filed for a stay July 3, pending the outcome of a judicial review. The organization filed a similar emergency motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit. (See “NAB Files Motion to Stay FCC Public Inspection File Rule.”)

The rule requires TV stations to post all of the material in their public inspection files online in an FCC-hosted database. Broadcasters have variously argued that doing so would be too costly, too time-consuming and discriminatory because those files include the rates charged for political campaign advertisements.

“NAB’s members will suffer irreparable harm absent a stay because the order compels television stations to post the prices for specific advertisements to a public website immediately after the sales occur,” the lobby wrote in its petition. “This will place NAB’s members at a disadvantage to no-broadcast competitors, who are not required to post rate information on the Internet.”

The commission counters that uploading the information will in fact save money and time for TV stations, as well as make it more accessible to the public. It also said the NAB failed to demonstrate “irreparable harm,” one of four criteria for obtaining a stay from the FCC.

The order, it says, “does not require broadcasters to make any information publicly available that they are not already required to make public. Broadcasters have long been required to make available political file information, including political rates, and anyone, including non-broadcast competitors, can access these data in the stations’ public files. Similarly, the political files of broadcasters’ competitors have been available in paper form to television broadcasters for years.

“NAB’s claim of resulting harm… is not persuasive given that the information is already publicly available under existing rules. NAB offers no proof that the rules will result in harm that ‘is certain to occur in the near future.’”

In addition to suffering irreparable harm, a stay requires the petitioner demonstrate that its position is likely to prevail on merits, other parties will be harmed, and the stay is in the public interest.

“We find that the public has a strong interest in implementation of the online public file rules… because these new rules will largely eliminate the substantial expense and inconvenience to the public of traveling to the station and paying for paper copies and greatly enhance transparency in political spending in particular,” the commission said.

“In this case,” the denial stated, “we conclude that NAB has satisfied none of the four factors in the stay calculus.”