(Artvoice  9 March 2000)

PBA’s TV Ads Pulled by All Buffalo Stations

by Bruce Jackson

All four Buffalo commercial television stations and all local cable stations on which the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Administration placed spot ads designed to put pressure on the Public Consensus Review Panel and Judge Eugene Fahey decided last week they would no longer air those ads.

When the first anonymous ads advocating an immediate start of bridge construction appeared on local television stations, Artvoice called the stations and asked who had paid for them. We were variously told that they had been instructed not to reveal the sponsor or that these were educational spots so there was no need to identify a sponsor.

After Artvoice questioned that policy in print (“The PBA’s Ex-Lax Initiative”, February 17), at least one station seems to have queried the FCC or the network legal department. We have received a copy of a fax indicating that the PBA’s refusal to allow its name to be used in connection with the ads it had purchased put the stations out of compliance with section 317 of the Communications Act of 1934. According to the memorandum, section 317 specifies, “whenever you are paid to broadcast any material  other than product advertising, you must announce that the broadcast is paid for and who paid for it....For advertisements that are political or that have the discussion of a controversial issue of public importance, you also must place in your public file the names of the chief executive officers or members of the board of directors of the organization responsible for the advertisement....If there is evidence that someone other than the named sponsor is the real sponsor; the station must inform the named sponsor that it will not broadcast the message."

So, rather than risk their FCC licenses, the stations pulled the ads. Local radio stations seem to be doing the same thing.

The PBA could continue to air its advocacy commercials if it would agree to put its name on them, just as candidates for office or lobbyists for legislation do. The continued absence of the ads from Buffalo tv and radio stations tells us that the PBA continues to be unwilling to admit that it was the sponsor.

When the Peace Bridge question is finally resolved it might be a good idea for our elected representatives--the attorney general among them--to look into this. Is it legal for a public agency to secretly spend a fortune disseminating misleading information as part of an attempt to influence public policy?

copyright 2000 Bruce Jackson

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