Fox Inc. chairman Rupert Murdoch this week wrote a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno urging elimination of the fin-syn rules and related Justice Dept. antitrust consent decrees.Murdoch’s missive came after representatives of Hollywood and the Big Three networks recently met with Reno to press their respective cases on fin-syn, the FCC rules that have long prevented the webs from taking an ownership stake in or reaping syndication profits from studio-produced TV shows. In his letter, Murdoch said the TV marketplace “has become so competitive that the fin-syn rules should be repealed and the consent decrees should be vacated. Whatever may have been true at the time those decrees were entered, it is clear that the three networks no longer enjoy anything even remotely approaching market power.” Fox’s letter comes as no surprise, since the weblet has long taken the position that the fin-syn rules and consent decrees should be axed. Separately, setting off what is expected to be a flurry of litigation in coming weeks, Capital Cities/ABC has appealed the FCC’s recent fin-syn decision to Chicago’s U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Reno’s Justice Dept. has become the central focus in the fin-syn fight now that the FCC has set in motion plans to eliminate the fin-syn rules. That’s because consent decrees that mirror the fin-syn regs are still in place in a Los Angeles federal court, and until they are lifted, the networks will be barred from unfettered entry into program production and syndication. On April 1, the FCC set in motion plans to eliminate the fin-syn rules. The commission ruled that the regs will be entirely lifted two years after U.S. District Judge Robert Kelleher removes fin-syn-related antitrust consent decrees that remain in place against the networks. In its decision, the FCC said there will no longer be restrictions on networks buying an ownership interest in non-network produced TV shows or in sharing in syndication revenues. Further, the commission said the webs may produce all of the prime time lineup. However, the FCC barred the networks from directly syndicating programs. Rather, the commission said programs ready to enter the syndication market must be “brokered off” through an unaffiliated third-party company.
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