Sponsorship disclosure

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In radio and television, U.S. law requires that stations identify the sources of sponsored material.[1]  The Code of Federal Regulations defines sponsored material as any transmission for which “money, service, or other valuable consideration is either directly or indirectly paid or promised to, or charged or accepted by such station.”[2]  This includes political material and political sponsors.[3]  Moreover, “political broadcast matter”—or material “involving the discussion of any controversial issue”—qualifies under this provision even if the materials were provided to the broadcaster free of charge.[4]  This exception demonstrates Congressional recognition that “groups advocating ideas or promoting candidates, rather than consumer goods, might be particularly inclined to attempt to mask their sponsorship in order to increase the apparent credibility of their messages.”[5] 

Sponsored broadcast material must be clearly identified to viewers as sponsored.[6] Furthermore, the broadcaster must “fully and fairly disclose the true identity” of the person or persons who sponsored the material.[7] This disclosure requirement extends to political material provided by an outside sponsor, even if—as noted—the material was provided without consideration.[8] In the case of campaign advertising, the material must identify both the source of the ad’s funding and whether it was authorized by a particular candidate.[9] To facilitate compliance, the statute requires that all employees involved in the production and dissemination of sponsored media disclose information about their role to the broadcaster.[10] By law, the broadcaster must exercise “reasonable diligence” in obtaining sponsorship information from these employees.[11]

Responsibility for enforcement of these laws is vested in the Federal Communications Commission By most accounts, the enforcement of the sponsorship disclosure rule has been deferential.[12]

[1] 47 U.S.C. § 317(a).
[2] 73 C.F.R. § 1212(a).
[3] 73 C.F.R. §1212(d).
[4] 47 U.S.C. § § 317(a)(2)
[5] Federal Communications Commission, Commission Reminds Broadcast Licensees, Cable Operators And Others Of Requirements Applicable To Video News Releases And Seeks Comment On The Use Of Video News Releases By Broadcast Licensees And Cable Operators, 20 FCC Rcd 8593 (2005), at 8.
[6] 73 C.F.R. § 1212(a)(1).
[7] 73 C.F.R. § 1212(e).
[8] 73 C.F.R. §1212(d) (if longer than five minutes, political sponsored material must have a disclosure both at the beginning and the end of the material).
[9] Federal Communications Commission, Joint agency guidelines for broadcast licensees re political broadcasting, 69 F.C.C.2d 1129, 1131 (FCC 1978).
[10] 47 U.S.C. § 507(a)-(b).
[11] 73 C.F.R. § 1212(b).
[12] Jodie Morse, Managing the News: The History and Constitutionality of the Government Spin Machine, 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 843, 861 (2006).