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Guide

Complaints About Broadcast Advertising

Background

The FCC receives numerous complaints from consumers about broadcast advertising. These complaints concern a wide variety of issues, including: the nature of the products being advertised; the timing of certain ads (for example, during mealtime); commercials that they believe are indecent or in poor taste; ads that they feel are poorly produced or grammatically incorrect; and false and misleading advertisements.

Are There Any Laws That Limit the Material that Stations Can Broadcast?

There are laws passed by Congress that restrict a station from broadcasting material that promotes certain lotteries, advertises cigarettes, little cigars or smokeless tobacco products, or perpetuates a fraud. Additionally, there are federal laws that prohibit or limit obscene, indecent or profane language. Also, some advertisements may violate laws that have been established by other government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Obscene broadcasts are prohibited at all times, while indecent or profane broadcasts are prohibited during certain hours. Violators are subject to sanctions that include civil penalties, criminal fines, license revocation and/or imprisonment of not more than two years. For more information about the FCC’s authority regarding obscene, indecent, or profane broadcasts, visit the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau website, or see our Obscene, Indecent and Profane Broadcasts consumer guide.

What If I Have a Complaint and/or Concern about a Specific Advertisement Being False, Misleading or Offensive?

Broadcasters are responsible for selecting the broadcast material that airs on their stations, including advertisements. The FCC expects broadcasters to be responsible to the community they serve and act with reasonable care to ensure that advertisements aired on their stations are not false or misleading.

The FTC has primary responsibility for determining whether specific advertising is false or misleading, and for taking action against the sponsors of such material. You can file a complaint with the FTC, or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

If you have a complaint about an advertisement that you consider offensive because it is obscene, indecent or profane, you can file a complaint with the FCC. There is no charge for filing a complaint. You can file your complaint using an online complaint form. You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice, or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

What to Include in Your Complaint

The best way to provide all the information the FCC needs to process your complaint is to thoroughly complete the online complaint form. When you open the online complaint form, you will be asked a series of questions that will take you to the particular section of the form you need to complete.

See our Obscene, Indecent and Profane Broadcasts consumer guide for details about what information to include in your complaint.

You can also direct complaints about an advertisement that you consider false, misleading or offensive to the local station and the affiliated network that broadcast the advertisement. By notifying the station and network about your complaint, you make them more sensitive to community standards in selecting advertisements.

For More Information

For information about other communications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer website, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center using the phone numbers or address listed above.

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Broadcast Advertising Complaints Guide (pdf)

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