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Political advertising in Arizona: Why ads are aired on ABC15 and CW61

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Posted at 11:05 AM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 14:05:46-04

It will come as no surprise to you that Arizona is receiving a record amount of political advertising, and as of this writing, more than any other media market in the country. From your social media accounts to television and radio stations, to websites like ABC15.com, it’s hard to avoid seeing a political commercial or message.

Many of you have reached out to us asking legitimate questions and providing feedback such as:

“How can you run that horrible ad?”

“That political ad is full of lies!”

“You just ran a fact-check story in your newscast that showed this commercial was false, yet you continue to run the ad. Why?”

Great questions and if you find some of this advertising frustrating, I agree with you. That’s why we thought it was important to explain how the political advertising business works for broadcasters like ABC15 and CW61.

In only very rare circumstances, such as highly graphic images, does our station refuse to take advertisements and here's why:

Our ability to broadcast our signal into your home is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, also known as the FCC. As part of our license with the FCC, we must follow federal laws to stay in business and continue providing you news and other programs.

Under the FCC rules for political advertising, broadcast television stations are required to air ads for all federal candidates and most state candidates. The candidates are protected by the FCC’s “no censorship rule,” which prevents stations from refusing an ad or running it at times viewers are less likely to see it due to its content. Those rules also prevent us from editing or revising the content of the ads. In other words, they must run as provided to us by the candidate.

You also will notice advertisements from PACs. Those commercials are funded by private groups who are for or against a candidate/issue. These PAC ads are not regulated by the FCC.

ABC15, CW61 and our parent company, E.W. Scripps, support the freedom of speech principles of the First Amendment, which emphasize a robust and open debate about the political process. Although some of today’s political action committees might use aggressive tactics during the campaign season, their ads fall under free speech and have a right to be on a broadcast.

In each of the political commercials, the candidate or PAC must identify who is responsible for the advertisement either by using audio and/or putting it up on the screen. If you have objections to the messaging in a political ad, that’s who you will want to contact to express your concerns.

A resource you may want to check out is the Federal Election Commission. Here you can examine how much money a federal candidate raised and spent.

What we will continue to do at ABC15 is cover this important election by making three promises to you: we will give you a voice, give you the facts and cut through the noise. The political ads make living up to that last promise particularly challenging, but we hope our commitment to fair, balanced coverage will help you make voting decisions that are right for you and your family.

Anita Helt is the Vice President and General Manager at ABC15 and CW61, and has called Arizona home for 25 years. Anita can be reached at ahelt@abc15.com.