Letter from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to FCC Chairman Michael Powell.
Date: November 3, 2003.
Re: Broadcast Radio and Television.
Source: Senate Commerce Committee.

Dear Chairman Powell:

I am writing to share my concerns about recent reports of alleged "pay for play" on both television and radio broadcasts, which call into question the adequacy of the Federal Communications Commission's ("Commission") regulations on broadcast sponsorship and identification. I urge you to examine these issues more closely in light of these reports.

Last month, The Washington Post detailed the practices of WFLA-TV in Tampa, Florida. The station airs a local morning show, "Daytime," with NBC's peacock logo and WFLA-TV's "News Channel 8" insignia at the bottom of the screen. Segments of the program, however, are actually paid advertisements. The program's anchors interview guests who pay $2,500 to appear on the program. According to the article, the only mention of payment is at the end of the program when the words "the following segments were paid advertisements" appear in small type on the screen for about four seconds. The editorial board of The Washington Post described the practice as "pioneering the latest descent into pay-for-play journalism." Today, the same newspaper reported that broadcasters' practice of charging for interviews "may be more widespread than commonly thought," citing WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, which has charged for interviews conducted by its news staff.

Likewise, The New York Times has reported allegations that musical artists face frequent demands to perform at live concerts to promote radio stations. According to recording executives quoted in a March 31, 2003 article, "there [is] often an implication that a station would continue playing the group's music only if it appeared at the concert."

In light of this apparent emergence of novel means of profiting from broadcast air time in ways that appear not fully disclosed to the public, I am writing to inquire whether you believe the Commission's rules on sponsorship identification and "payola" are adequate. Please comment on whether you believe Congressional action is necessary to ensure broadcasters do not continue to deceive viewers through such "sham" television programs as "Daytime," or to preclude radio stations from demanding performances from musicians as compensation for air time.

Finally, I ask that this matter be handled in strict accordance with existing agency rules, regulations, and ethical guidelines. I am not advocating a specific result in this matter, and I trust that whatever decision or course of action you may take will be made in the best interests of the country.