A new report takes on local TV stations for not balancing political ads with the truth

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Free Press was able to produce the report after gaining access to information from affiliate stations that began posting political files to a newly created online Federal Communications Commission database, which also houses other important station information.

The report states that the four broadcast Tampa affiliates (WFLA, WTSP, WTVT and WFTS) aired an average of more than 200 political ads a day in August.

Though individuals and 501(c)(4) groups were able to spend large sums of money in previous elections (such as George Soros and the Swift Boat Vets for Truth in 2004), the Citizens United decision in January 2010 opened up the floodgates, leading to the creation of the SuperPACs.

Left in the Dark blasts the lack of transparency, and blames local TV stations for being part of the problem:

This lack of transparency is reflected in broadcasters’ opposition to a new Federal Communications Commission rule requiring stations to post political files online. The FCC passed the rule in April to give the public easy access to information about who is buying ads on local stations and how much they’re paying for airtime. Until this change went into effect, anyone interested in gathering this data faced the challenge of taking time off from work to visit local stations during business hours and navigating often-resistant station staff to find the files and copy relevant information.

On every step of the way, TV broadcasters have fought the FCC rule to make this process easier. Industry lobbyists swarmed the FCC to discredit the rule before it even passed, and the National Association of Broadcasters is now suing the federal agency, claiming that it’s too burdensome for local stations to digitize their files.4 The industry has protested the agency’s action so vigorously that former FCC advisor Steven Waldman asked whether broadcasters “believe that they even have ‘public interest obligations.’”

The report applauds one segment of a WTSP-Channel 10 newscast where PolitiFact reporter Katie Sanders appeared on the broadcast about an ad — produced by the conservative group Americans For Prosperity— that made (false) claims about President Obama and the national debt.

Despite discovering that the ad was spreading falsehoods, WTSP aired the group’s anti-Obama ads more than 150 times in August, according to the station’s political file (CL has reached out for comment from WTSP's news director).

The report also states that in August, Tampa stations offered no mention of the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future, even though the group purchased more than $2 million in local ad placements.

Tampa television stations are having a banner year with the revenue received from airing political ads. But a new report assails these local stations and stations in other key broadcast TV markets for failing to report on the Super PACs that are producing many of the ads, as well as whether the ads are factual or not.

Left in the Dark: Local Coverage in the Age of Big-Money Politics was recently written by Timothy Karr with the media activist group Free Press. It focuses on broadcast stations in Tampa, Charlotte, Cleveland, Las Vegas and Milwaukee — the biggest media markets in five of the most important battleground states where the presidential campaign is being contested.

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