If Uncle Sam is paying for the time, Uncle Sam is the sponsor. 

Long-time reader, broadcaster, Friend of the Blog, client (and, yes, attorney) Tom Taggart has suggested that a reminder about sponsorship identification might be useful in light of a recent situation he encountered. An ad agency bought time on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal governmental agency, which was promoting enrollment in Obamacare in advance of the mid-February filing deadline. No problem there. The instructions accompanying the 30-second script indicated that it should be read “like a PSA with a sense of urgency”. Again, no problem there.

But the script didn’t happen to include any indication of who was paying for the spot – and there was the problem.

The mere facts that the spot was supposed to be read “like a PSA” and that it involved a subject that could qualify for PSA treatment were immaterial, since it was acknowledged by one and all that money was to change hands in exchange for broadcasting the spot. That being the case, an appropriate sponsorship identification was definitely called for, notwithstanding the omission of any such ID from the spot’s script. Having recognized that omission, the station was entirely within its rights to take steps to insure that an appropriate sponsorship ID was included in the spot.

We don’t know whether this incident arose from an over-enthusiastic, under-informed ad rep (or ad agency), or possibly a sponsor who preferred to avoid a sponsorship ID because it might somehow dilute the intended message, or possibly some inadvertent miscommunication somewhere along the line. Whatever the source of the problem, the solution was clear. If money is being paid in return for the broadcast of particular content, that must be disclosed, and it’s the broadcaster’s obligation to make sure that it is disclosed. It doesn’t make any difference if the sponsor is a governmental agency, or if the subject matter of the spot might otherwise qualify as PSA-worthy.

Tom noted our recent reports on the FCC’s recent enforcement efforts relative to the sponsorship ID requirement – here and here, for example – and thought a reminder about the rule might be appropriate. We agree – consider yourselves reminded.