Exex warn of encroaching feds at ALTV sesh

NEW ORLEANS – Despite the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, broadcasters continue to be under attack from overzealous bureaucrats and a Congress and executive branch that are deregulatory in word only, Assn. of Local Television Stations prexy Jim Hedlund told an audience of the org’s members Monday.

Washington has come to view TV stations as “cash cows” that can be used to balance the federal budget, finance political campaigns and cure the nation’s social ills, added ALTV chairman Michael Eigner, executive vice president and general manager, WPIX New York.

D.C. 2, b’casters 0

Also during the past year, broadcasters have suffered two major defeats in the ongoing battle with Washington concerning government intrusion into the area of content control, Hedlund said. Broadcasters did not fight to the death over the V-chip or new kidvid regs because of “the ominous threat that the digital spectrum would be pulled out of reach,” he said.

“We have not protected our First Amendment rights as vigilantly as we should have,” Hedlund said. “But we are coming close to the breaking point.”

Among Hedlund’s ongoing concerns is a proposal by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) to ban all violent programming between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Hollings introduced the bill last year but it never reached a vote on the Senate floor.

Booze battle, part II

Also looming in the wings is government regulation of hard-liquor ads. After abstaining from advertising on television and radio for more than 48 years, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. dropped its self-imposed ban last fall. Hedlund offered a pragmatic recommendation against accepting ads from the liquor industry. “The net impact may well be a federal ban on all alcohol advertising,” Hedlund said. “Take away the beer money and watch all the sports go to cable.”

Eigner was critical of the Federal Communications Commission for dragging its heels on liberalizing ownership rules. Like many but not all broadcasters, Eigner is concerned about indications by the FCC that it will tighten attribution rules and take a conservative approach to Local Management Agreements. One FCC proposal now under consideration would grandfather current LMAs but would not allow the agreement to be renewed or transferred to another owner.

FCC staffer Julius Genachowski said there is no consensus yet concerning ownership issues at the FCC and that final decisions on the issue are not imminent. “I don’t know what they will look like or when they will get there,” Genachowski said. He added that the FCC’s focus on digital TV matters has distracted it from resolving the ownership rules.

Mass Media bureau chief Roy Stewart said the FCC has implemented several tentative conclusions that will allow ownership transfers to move forward. During his remarks to the ALTV audience, Stewart noted that the FCC is struggling with the resolution of all-important digital TV policy issues.

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