Capitol building

A half dozen organizations representing rural and agricultural interests are urging the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee to direct federal agencies to spend government advertising dollars with local broadcasters and news publishers. The idea has already been circulating for months on Capitol Hill to help local outlets overcome the loss of local ad dollars because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In many rural areas, broadcast stations are the predominant or only form of local information,” said the groups, which include the Rural & Agriculture Council of America, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, American Agri-Women, American Dairy Coalition, National Association of Wheat Growers, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and South Dakota Farmers Union. The organizations say the reliable on local radio and TV is only more pronounced since many rural areas lack adequate high-speed internet connections. “Our communities rely on the vital information they provide on a daily basis, and their continued operation is vital as [we] navigate these extraordinary times,” they wrote in a letter to congressional leaders.

The government-ordered lockdowns shuttered many radio advertisers. While stores, restaurants and other businesses are slowly reopening, the linger impact on the local market has been significant. Magna this week forecast broadcast radio revenue could be down as much as 17% this year.

“Local media has always relied on advertising as its primary source of revenue, which is then reinvested back into local news and journalism. Without advertisements from the local auto dealer, corner restaurant or feed store, these trusted local media outlets will not survive,” the groups told lawmakers.

The idea of using federal ad dollars to offset the COVID-19 impact already has broad support in Washington. A letter signed by 244 House members in April called on the Trump administration to use a portion of federal agency advertising dollars to help local radio, TV and newspapers. A similar letter was signed by 74 Senators, encouraging federal agencies to increase advertising about current and newly created programs and information as a way to boost local media outlets.

Yet the White House has so far not issued such a directive. So, the six rural and ag-based groups are asking congressional budget writers to allocate additional federal advertising funding in future stimulus or appropriations bills that would be distributed across local radio, TV and newspapers in communities both large and small. “Our local broadcasters are a critical component of our communities and the services they provide cannot be lost,” they said.