Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell. Don’t Buy.

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Recently, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission “clarified” that body’s latest dictate requiring a “non-discrimination disclaimer” be included on all broadcast advertising contracts. Chairman Julius Genechowski, displaying a level of naivete possible only by a government bureaucrat, expressed his belief that a station would routinely decline a schedule that even hinted at any discrimination bias.

Mr. Genechowski unfortunately conflates the rights of buyer and seller. Sellers, by law, are prohibited from discriminating. Buyers are not.

A Radio station cannot refuse an advertising schedule for reasons of race, ethnicity, sex, age, and all the rest covered under federal law. But under the FCC’s reasoning, an advertiser would be required to buy ad time on ALL stations in a market if the advertiser’s desire is to exclude certain ethnic groups. So let’s think about this for a moment. If you are a seller of western-style clothing and your research indicates listeners to country music stations are most likely to purchase your pointy-toed boots, you can no longer buy time on just the two country stations in town. No, now you must also buy the Hispanic and urban stations, even though no one in their audiences has ever stepped into your store, or is likely to regardless of how much you spend on the minority stations. And if you’re the country stations, you’ll be required to refuse the schedule if you learn the western store is not buying the other stations.

The bottom line is that the FCC is dictating a requirement that is unenforceable. Radio stations cannot dictate to advertisers where to spend their money (they’ve been trying to do that for 70 years without result). Under our society, a buyer has the freedom to invest his money wherever he wants. Placing the burden on stations to police an advertiser’s buying decisions is not only a P.C. bridge too far, it is jeopardizing the license of the station via the actions of a third party that is beyond the licensee’s control.

Instead of the stated goal of eliminating discrimination, the FCC has established a new frontier for “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” Stations will include the mandated disclaimer, and won’t probe an advertiser’s intent. Client’s won’t tell the station about their other media buys.

And, if the commission persists in its folly, advertisers will exercise their ultimate option when it comes to purchasing Radio time: “Don’t Buy.” At a time when Radio is struggling to recover from government’s profligate spending and a depressed economy, the FCC’s timing is impeccable. And senseless.