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Listen to radio online or digitally to avoid those polital ads

The 2022 election ad season is on and 2024 is coming head on, meaning the gloves are off. Candidates for the House and Senate as well as for local offices have already come out swinging, some with controversial spots including questionable or disturbing content, with several such spots having aired locally during Sunday's Super Bowl coverage.

While stations may be urged to pull such spots, in most cases doing so is against FCC rules, reminds broadcast attorney David Oxenford in his Broadcast Law Blog. “For ads sponsored by legally qualified candidates themselves, broadcasters can’t censor a candidate ad, so they can’t reject it or remove it from the air no matter what its content is,” he says. “While popular sentiment may call for such actions, the law does not allow that to happen.”

If you are listening to radio... as in all cases, there are rare exceptions to this rule, such as if ad content may violate obscenity laws. Generally, though, issues with controversial political ads are out of a station's hands. “Because broadcasters have essentially no choice but to run a political ad in the form that the candidate provides it, and cannot reject it based on content, the Supreme Court has recognized an exemption from any broadcaster liability for the content of the ad,” Oxenford says. “The candidate who claims that he is libeled or defamed by the political ad run by an opposing candidate needs to seek relief from the candidate who ran the attack ad, not from the station.”

Stations do, however, have liability for third-party ads not authorized by the candidates themselves, allowing for censorship of such spots. It's also worth noting that stations may be liable for ads with questionable content airing on other platforms. “Note that the protection from liability only extends to broadcasts – the same ad that runs on your station’s website may subject you to liability even if you are immune from liability for the broadcast of that ad,” Oxenford says.

But if you want to avoid most of these ads, use an app like Audicy or TuneIn to listen to you favorite AM and FM radio stations.

Something to consider.

Handling lawyer or listener complaints to spots protected under this “no censorship” rule, which applies to state, local and federal candidates from which stations allow ads? “When you get that letter from the lawyer for the candidate who is being attacked in his or her opponent’s ads saying 'take it down or we will sue,' you should be able to respond by saying that your hands are tied by federal law, and the complaining candidate needs to take up its issues with the sponsor of the ads,” Oxenford says. “When you get complaints from the public about the content of a candidate’s ad, you should similarly consider ways to let the public know that you cannot censor [its] content. Some stations run announcements throughout the election season making that point.”

As with most legal matters, the line between which political spots must run as is and which can be altered or rejected can get blurry, as Oxenford points out. “Broadcasters need to know the rules so that they don’t pull an ad that they are not allowed to censor under the FCC’s rules, and that they don’t run one for which they could in fact have liability.”

You can reduce the number of political ads you are bombarded with on the radio listening digitally or online.


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