First Media Fires PTAR Volley At FCC

With the financial interest and syndication rules finally revised, it was only a matter of time before the primetime access rule reared its head at the Federal Communications Commission.

Least anyone forget that FCC chairman Al Sikes pledged last September to deal with the PTAR challenge in a “timely fashion” after the commission revised the finsyn rules, a Washington, D.C.-based broadcaster has called for quick action on its request for PTAR repeal.

First Media Corp. last week wrote the FCC reminding commissioners of Sikes’ statement, with First Media attorney Nathaniel Emmons noting that, “it seems to us that further delay by the commission is no longer reasonable. We therefore, once again, respectfully ask when you now anticipate that the commission will open the proceeding on First Media’s petition?”

PTAR requires network affils in the top-50 markets to set aside one hour each weeknight for non-network programs. The reg was adopted in the early 1970s to curb the dominance of the Big Three networks and is responsible for the growth of firstrun syndication companies such as King World.

First Media, which owns CBS affiliate WCPX-TV Orlando, launched its first PTAR broadside in April 1990, claiming the rule violates its First Amendment right to free speech. The firm said that programming scarcity- the rationale for PTAR when it was first adopted by the FCC in 1970 – no longer exists in an era of cable tv and videocassette recorders.

The company backed up its claim by reminding the FCC of a 1987 commission decision over-turning the Fairness Doctrine, the reg that required broadcasters to air both sides of a controversial issue. The FCC nixed Fairness on grounds that the explosion in video programming options had rendered it unnecessary.

First Media is arguing that if the Fairness Doctrine is obsolete, then so too is PTAR.

Supporters of PTAR have privately expressed concern that First Media’s argument has indeed been bolstered by the Fairness Doctrine decision.

However, the FCC has been reluctant to take up the First Media challenge. Although Sikes originally promised a “timely” review of PTAR, the FCC honcho seemed to backtrack in recent statements to reporters by claiming that he supports the rule and is in no hurry to see it changed.

Other FCC’ers have indicated they are not anxious to open a proceeding on the contentious PTAR issue so soon after concluding the bloody finsyn fight.

If the FCC continues to stall, First Media is expected to launch a court challenge. Emmons said the company is “keeping its options open.”

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