THE Federal Communications Commission has put broadcasters on notice: Any station overcharging federal candidates for political commercials during this election year will be treated to stiff fines and possible loss of license.
Following a 1990 audit of potential overcharges, the FCC found that a majority of the stations were overcharging for political ads.
In December it fined two stations $25,000 each: KRON in San Francisco, which allegedly overcharged for 47 campaign spots; and KDFW in Dallas-Fort Worth, which allegedly overcharged for 98 political spots.
Thirty stations in all were audited. Fifteen were cleared, and three were cited on a lesser charge of failure to maintain complete political-broadcasting files.
KTXA and KRID in Dallas-Fort Worth and WSTR in Cincinnati got much smaller fines and letters of caution. FCC sends a strong message
"When you send a message like that, it's going to have an impact," says Milton Gross, chief of the political branch of the FCC. "Before we entertain a complaint, we have to have reason for believing they [political candidates buying TV spots] were overcharged. Sometimes advertising agencies buy time for candidates and commercial ads, sometimes former employees [of stations] let us know. We hope all these rulings will help broadcasters comply with the statutes."
New FCC rules on political broadcasting, adopted in December, state that political candidates' ads fall under the the "lowest-unit-charge" requirement, as well as the "equal opportunity"and "reasonable access" regulations.
FCC officials say they believe the new rules will stop excessive charges.