Justice Dept. to hear webs decry decrees

Network lawyers have been invited to the Justice Dept. to make the case for eliminating fin-syn-related antitrust consent decrees, industry sources said Thursday.

Tuesday’s planned meeting comes amid the backdrop of an intense lobbying effort by Hollywood to preserve the decrees.

Motion Pictures Assn. of America prez Jack Valenti met with Justice representatives in early April on the subject, and it’s been widely rumored that studio moguls have been taking advantage of their easy access to the Clinton administration to arm-twist on the topic.

Hollywood’s interest in the consent decrees was heightened April 1 when the FCC set in motion plans to nix the financial interest and syndication rules. With the fin-syn regs out of the way, the consent decrees are all that stand in the way of the networks gaining unfettered entry into the lucrative program production and syndication business.

Industry sources said the meeting between network lawyers and Justice has been in the works for about a week. A Justice Dept. spokeswoman declined comment.

The consent decrees stem from Justice Dept. lawsuits filed against the networks in the 1970s alleging anti-competitive acts to thwart TV program diversity. To settle the suits, the webs agreed to abide by the decrees, which in many ways paralleled the FCC’s old fin-syn rules. The decrees have remained in place despite Justice Dept. findings during the Reagan and Bush administrations that they are no longer necessary.

Presiding over the decrees is Judge Robert Kelleher of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Kelleher is expected to rule soon on whether to lift the decrees, and unless the Justice Dept. comes out for retention, it’s widely presumed they will be lifted.

Even if Justice reverses course, Kelleher is under no obligation to follow the department’s advice.

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