The FCC has proposed an important rule change that could make the political system more transparent. Amazingly, the trade associations representing the local TV news industry are opposing it.

In exchange for being given the broadcast spectrum by taxpayers for free, broadcasters have long been required to fulfill certain “public-interest obligations” to communities. These used to be fairly significant; now they mostly entail compiling and maintaining a “public-inspection file” that citizens can examine….

The FCC’s proposal is breathtakingly obvious: move the material online. The commission decided not to ask for any additional information for the political file. It merely said that what stations currently collect on paper, they should instead put on the Internet. (Full disclosure: the commission’s proposal is based on a report of which I was the lead author.)

Yet it has provoked a strong, negative reaction from local TV stations. The National Association of Broadcasters and a group of state associations of broadcasters argue that it would dramatically increase the burden on local stations, since some of the files are updated frequently during campaign season. One broadcaster predicted they would have to add eight new staffers to manage such a new system. While they agreed that some other parts of the “public inspection file” could go online, the say the political file should be exempted from that policy….

We have a rare situation in which local TV news operations can directly help the functioning of the political system by providing more information to the public. Is it really possible that the broadcasters will take the position that they should be paid large sums of campaign money, do a poor job of covering elections, and block efforts to allow for more sunlight in the political system?