Political Noise Finds Its Way To Public Television

Up until recently, public television and public radio stations couldn’t run political advertisements. You either have or have not noticed the absence, but you will probably notice their new presence now through election time, especially if the political ads run with a fervor similar to that on the major networks.

In April, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a 2-1 vote that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should not stop public broadcasters from airing political advertisements.  Prior to the decision, there was an official ban against such ads. The court upheld a ban against advertisements from for-profit advertisers.

The appeal s court says lifting the ban against political advertising will not interfere with public broadcasting’s mission to provide educational programming. The court states that the ban was a violation against 1st amendment rights.

Non-Partisan Public Broadcasting
The intent of public broadcasting is to provide educational, non-partisan content. On top of the fact that some political ads are simply unfair attack ads, critics of the ban-reversal say that paid advertisements will change the type of content many public television and radio stations air.

It can be argued that with the entry of paying advertisers, public stations will create content to attract advertisers. That could mean more political programming, potentially biased political programming.

Public broadcasting organizations spend a significant amount of time searching for underwriting, grants, and donations to keep their stations afloat. Paid advertising may come at a huge relief to many public stations.

Proponents of the ban feel this case is a big win. They say the FCC shouldn’t be responsible for content delivered on public broadcasting.

Do Political Ads Impact Voting Trends?
So while we’ll likely see and hear more political ads over the next few months, we won’t know if the ads on public stations will impact 2012 voting trends for some time. However, studies prove that political media coverage and political ads do sway voter decisions. Even negative ads can have a positive impact for some candidates.

According to a Sunlight Foundation survey, a non-profit organization that makes government data accessible, 82% of respondents say they dislike political attack ads, so much so that they claim to tune out the ads altogether. However, it was found that the more sensitive a person was to nasty ads, the more impacted they were by them. The study also found that “the more voters were exposed to ads that were both uncivil and relevant, the more their evaluation of the candidates declined.”

This one study only provides some insight on voting trends, but it does tell us that the more ads we see, the more impacted we’ll be.

Will public broadcasting, our once safe haven from political ads, sway voters even more? Time will tell.

This is a guest post by Allison Murray on behalf of market research company, Scarborough Research. Scarborough provides consumer insights and media trends to local markets across the U.S.