Sikes may table PTAR issue at FCC meet

The on-again, off-again proposal to consider revising the prime time access rule may be off again.

Though it’s not official, Federal Communications Commission sources said chairman Al Sikes — who last week raised the possibility of placing PTAR revisions on the agenda for the FCC’s Jan. 14 meeting–may be reconsidering the idea after getting a cool reception from other commissioners.

“I would say there’s only a weak chance it will be brought up soon,” said one FCC source.

PTAR is a longstanding FCC rule requiring network affiliates in the top 50 markets to set aside an hour of prime time each night for non-network programs.

Sikes has expressed support for a petition filed by the Walt Disney Co. that would tinker with the rule to allow the airing of off-network reruns in the access slot. Disney’s request has split Hollywood and drawn the wrath of independent TV stations and first-run syndication powerhouse King World.

Sikes’ decision to float the idea of changing PTAR struck some observers as odd, since the Jan. 14 FCC meeting will be his last and since he won’t be at the agency to vote on what surely would be a contentious issue.

One commission source said Sikes may have simply been doing a favor for former FCC chairman Richard Wiley, a high-powered D.C. attorney who counts Disney among his clients.

Wiley was at the FCC last week lobbying in favor of placing the PTAR item on the January agenda, sources said. As chairman, Sikes controls the agenda of FCC meetings. If he decides to add PTAR to the January meeting, one of the other four commissioners would have to request that the item be “pulled” to block the matter from being considered.

Commissioner Ervin Duggan said several months ago that he would not prevent the issue from being heard, but he is also known to be sympathetic to President-elect Clinton’s transition team request that no new FCC matters be raised until Clinton takes office Jan. 20.

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