11 July 2003

Somewhere, Rupert Murdoch is preparing for world domination...

One of TV's last strongholds against monopolization is beginning to crumble. I have no more words.

NAB About-Face on FCC Ownership Rules
In a jarring about-face, the National Association of Broadcasters has decided to oppose all pending legislation that would roll back the Federal Communications Commission's recently enacted rules changes that relaxed media ownership limits.

The NAB has also reached out to the major networks to join with it in its new position, apparently seeking to head off the formation of a competing trade group that would represent network interests.

Until Tuesday, under orders from its affiliate-dominated board of directors, the NAB had been lobbying vigorously to win legislation that would roll back the FCC's decision to relax the cap on national TV ownership. The cap was lifted to let broadcasters acquire stations reaching 45 percent of the nation's TV homes after the three Republican FCC commissioners voted for the change. The two Democratic FCC commissioners voted against the change.

The NAB's marching orders have long been to keep the cap at 35 percent -- a level the association has maintained for years is vital to checking the power of networks over their affiliates. But industry and congressional sources said NAB officials have decided to give up the cap fight because they fear they won't be able to win legislation that would focus on the cap alone -- and that any measure approved by an increasingly heated Congress would be likely to be loaded down with provisions reversing FCC deregulation that key NAB members support. Those include the relaxation of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions.

The sudden change brought an angry rebuke from Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the ranking member on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce: "The NAB's decision to reverse itself on the issue of the national television ownership cap is an unfortunate retreat from its proud history of support for localism, diversity and competition in the broadcast marketplace. My efforts, and those of my colleagues, to repeal the FCC's ill-advised decision to raise the ownership cap to 45 percent will not be deterred. And I remain confident that many of NAB's own members will continue to support us."

Sources said NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts has also asked representatives of the Big 4 TV networks to join NAB in its fight against any legislation. All of the networks bailed out of the association over the past several years in a dispute over the cap issue. One source said NAB's change of direction on the cap issue could also take wind out of the sails of the Local Broadcasting Alliance, a new organization that the networks have been planning to launch to represent the interests of their owned-and-operated TV stations in Washington.

A major test of the newfound industry unity could take place next Wednesday when the House Appropriations Committee is slated to consider an FCC appropriations bill. Sources expect the committee to consider a rider that could roll back much of the deregulation the FCC voted to adopt on June 2. An NAB spokesman declined comment on the association's new legislative strategy. But the NAB's Mr. Fritts has scheduled a briefing with reporters Thursday at which he is expected to announce the association's new plan.
-- (Television Week 7/9/03)

courtesy Grahme Newell's Ideanet

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