- What is the problem that “Stations: Stand by Your Ad” addresses?
- What can be done?
- What can viewers like you do?
- How do I contact my local broadcast stations?
- How long will it take to email my local stations from the FlackCheck.org site?
- Will the stations respond to my email directly?
- Can I call the stations?
- Can I start my own online petition?
- How about ads on the radio?
- What is a third-party political ad?
- What are the broadcaster’s responsibilities?
- How do broadcast stations benefit from airing third-party ads?
- Have stations rejected or pulled deceptive third party political ads?
- How can stations know whether the third party ad is deceptive?
- What else is this project doing to help stations?
- There are so many political ads on television, how can stations possibly check them all?
- What’s been said?
- How well has the campaign worked to date?
- Who is sponsoring the project?
The Process Of Making A Difference
Third Party Ads
“Stations: Stand by Your Ad” Campaign
- What is the problem that “Stations: Stand by Your Ad” addresses? In past presidential elections, “third-party ads” have contained a higher level of both attack and inaccuracy than candidate ads, a finding that holds up this year. There have been unprecedented levels and proportions of third-party advertising in the 2012 election cycle. OpenSecrets.org reports that “as of October 23, 2012, 947 groups organized as Super PACs have reported total receipts of $546,020,361 and total independent expenditures of $428,677,605 in the 2012 cycle.” This is a cause for concern because a voter might decide not to vote for a candidate whom they would otherwise support because of being misled by third-party advertising. Since April 10, 2012, eight third-party groups have spent an estimated $154,013,290 in ad dollars. Of this total, an estimated $40,841,180 (26.5%) was spent on 22 ads containing deceptive or misleading claims.* (Annenberg Public Policy Center Report, October 15, 2012, click here for the release) *Change in $ amounts from earlier reports is a function of CMAG’s changing estimates.
- What can be done? While TV and radio stations are required to air (and are barred from censoring) federal candidates' ads, no such requirements govern the messages of third-party groups, or product ads. And, significantly, stations have the right to insist on the accuracy of the "independent expenditure" ads they accept, much as they do with product ads.
- What can viewers like you do? Viewers can contact TV and radio stations and urge them to exercise their rights and responsibilities in this area, as outlined in the FAQs below.
- How do I contact my local broadcast stations? The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania’s FlackCheck.org has launched a page designed to help viewers email local stations to urge them to insist on the accuracy of any third-party ads they air and make fact checking of political deception a regular feature of their news programming. To do this, go to the FlackCheck.org site and click on the Stand by Your Ad icon on the right hand-side of the main page. Then follow the instructions in this link.
- How long will it take to email my local stations from the FlackCheck.org site? It takes less than a minute and a half.
- Will the stations respond to my email directly? Perhaps. Some have. But even if they don’t, your email tells them that there are viewers in their market who are concerned about protecting the community from deceptive third party political advertising.
- Can I call the stations? FlackCheck.org doesn’t provide phone numbers for the stations, but if voters locate the number of a local station, it would be appropriate to call. We recommend also sending email and letters, however, because they are more readily preserved.
- Can I start my own online petition? Yes, you may cut and paste the contents of our letter to create your own petition, if you’d like.
- How about ads on the radio? The same rules that apply to television stations apply to radio. At this point we have not set up a system to contact radio stations.
- What is a third-party political ad? A third-party ad is a political ad by a group and not by a candidate (for example, ads by political parties, interest groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), or by super PACs such as "Restore our Future," "Red White and Blue Fund," and "Priorities USA Action").
- What are the broadcaster’s responsibilities? The Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) website notes: "Broadcasters are responsible for selecting the broadcast material that airs on their stations, including advertisements. The FCC expects broadcasters to be responsible to the community they serve and act with reasonable care to ensure that advertisements aired on their stations are not false or misleading" (www.fcc.gov).
- Stations must provide access to and may not censor ads by candidates for federal office and their candidate committees. "The [Federal Communications] Commission may revoke any station license or construct permit for willful or repeated failure to allow reasonable access to or to permit purchase of reasonable amounts of time for the use of a broadcasting station by a legally qualified candidate for [f]ederal elective office on behalf of his candidacy." (47 U.S.C §312(a)(7) (1970 & Supp. V 1975). As a result, stations cannot be sued for airing libelous or defamatory content in a federal candidate ad.
- Stations are not required to accept political ads from independent political organizations (i.e., third-party groups). Organizations that are not candidate committees have no private right of access to the airwaves. (CBS v. DNC, 412 U.S. 94, 113 ; You Can’t Afford Dodd Committee, 81 FCC 2d 579 ; National Conservative Political Action Committee, 89 FCC 2d 626 ) As a result, stations can be sued for airing libelous or defamatory content in a non-candidate ad (Felix v. Westinghouse Radio Stations, 186 F. 2d 1, 6 (3rd Cir.) cert. denied, 314 U.S. 909 ).
- Licensees have an overriding duty "to protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising" (Licensee Responsibility With Respect to the Broadcast of False, Misleading or Deceptive Advertising, 74 F.C.D.2d 623 ).
- A station must take “reasonable steps” to satisfy itself “as to the reliability and reputation of every prospective advertiser” (In re: Complaint by Consumers Association of District of Columbia, 32 F.C.C.2d 400, 405 ).
- Failure to prevent the airing of “false and misleading advertising” may be “probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility” that can be cause for the loss of a station’s license (Cosmopolitan Broad. Corp. v. FCC, 581 F.2d 917,927 [D.C. Cir. 1978]).
- How do broadcast stations benefit from airing third-party ads? An essay by T.C. Brown of The Columbia Journalism Review’s "The Swing States Project" noted (March 8, 2012) that:
- Have stations rejected or pulled deceptive third party political ads? Yes. When a group called “Building a Better Ohio” offered Ohio TV stations a deceptive ad last October, a number of stations in Ohio exercised their prerogative to insist on the accuracy of so-called third party ads by refusing to air it. To see the deceptive ad and a list of stations that refused to air it, visit the "Stand by Your Ad" page of FlackCheck.org.
- How can stations know whether the third party ad is deceptive? There are a number of ways. First, the existing fact-checking sites, FactCheck.org, Politifact.com , and The Washington Post's FactChecker independently review political ads for accuracy and rarely disagree on their conclusions. Second, FlackCheck.org flags deceptions in third party political ads on our "FlackCheck.org’s Deception Log for Station Managers" page and indicates which stations are airing them. Third, some stations and local newspapers engage in their own fact-checking.
- What else is this project doing to help stations? We have distributed a guide to factchecking in broadcast news as well as an illustrative video to all the nation's station managers.
- There are so many political ads on television, how can stations possibly check them all? To make it easier for stations to identify third party deceptions in the Senatorial and Presidential races, FlackCheck.org posts links to fact checks of misleading third party claims being aired in those contests in battleground states (click here).
- What’s been said? a. Executive director of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) It seems to me that [FlackCheck.org’s “Stand by Your Ad”] can serve as an important resource for newsrooms as primary contests heat up across the country. It can be another source for political reporters and producers to use in assembling their stories in what has become a very sharp and biting Presidential primary campaign. [Kathleen Hall] Jamieson [director of FactCheck.org] summed it up by saying, “We hope stations will take the same care in screening out deceptions in political ads of outside groups that they take in protecting their viewers from misleading product ads.” I think newsrooms can help in this effort, too. --Mike Cavendar, Executive Director, RTDNA
- How well has the campaign worked to date?
- The pro-Romney super PAC “Restore our Future” ad titled Happy included the claim that Freddie Mac paid Gingrich $30,000 an hour. After the fact checkers showed that the hourly claim was incorrect, it was dropped from subsequent “Restore our Future” ads focusing on Newt Gingrich’s “tons of baggage,” such as Plan (FactCheck.org, December 23, 2011).
- Who is sponsoring the project? This Annenberg Public Policy Center project is supported by a grant from the Omidyar Network and by an endowment created for the Annenberg Public Policy Center by the Annenberg Foundation. The University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center is the home of both the award-winning FactCheck.org and its new sister site (the sponsor of this project) FlackCheck.org.
The Process Of Making A Difference
Third Party Ads
Rights and Responsibilities in Dealing with Third-Party Political Ads
While TV and radio stations are required to air (and are barred from censoring) federal candidates’ ads, no such requirements govern the messages of third-party groups. Stations have the right to insist on the accuracy of the “independent expenditure” ads they accept. A third-party ad is one that is not sponsored by a candidate or candidate’s committee. Third-party groups, which are also known as independent expenditure groups, include interest groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; super PACs such as “Restore Our Future” and “Priorities USA Action”; and 501(c)(4) groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS.
TV stations can charge higher rates for super PAC ads-"whatever the market will bear," as the vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters recently told The Hill- than they can for ads from candidates’ campaigns, which must be offered at a discounted rate.As a result, as CBS president Les Moonves told an entertainment law conference at the University of California, Los Angeles on March 10 (Bloomberg, March 10, 2012) "Super PACs may be bad for America but they’re very good for CBS."
“Stations: Stand by Your Ad” Campaign
b. Major newspapers “TV Stations for Truth” by Andrew Rosenthal, “Loyal Opposition blog,” New York Times (online), February 17, 2012 But the silver-lining is that, as the Annenberg Public Policy Center explains on its fact-check site [FlackCheck.org], independent groups are not guaranteed the same access to airwaves as candidates for federal office. TV stations have every right to reject third-party ads. Broadcasters are not exactly printing money these days, so expecting them to turn down money from the super PACs is like expecting the politicians to turn it down. Instead of rejecting an ad outright, however, they can take a more modest step: They can insist on edits for the sake of accuracy. Shocking, right?” “Truth in Political Advertising,” editorial in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday February 26, 2012: A station that won't approve fraudulent advertisements for products should be at least as vigilant about misleading political advertisements. And in most cases the work will already have been done for them by organizations such as FactCheck.org. Super PACs and other political groups would be more responsible in framing their messages if they knew they had to pass a truth test to get them on the air.
a. Our records indicate that over 39,816 emails have been sent to station managers as of 10/12/2012.
b. Because television stations and advertisers are engaged in a private conversation, unless one of them reveals its content there is no way to know whether the campaign has affected stations’ decisions. Neither the station nor the advertiser has an interest in publicizing the fact that an ad has been corrected before airing.
c. Some ads have been corrected after the fact checking identified an inaccuracy.