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Hundt breaks truce

FCC chair sends message with family-hour bill

WASHINGTON — The week-old cease-fire pledge over TV ratings apparently does not extend to Federal Communications Commission chairman Reed Hundt, who is expected to endorse, at a Senate hearing today, a bill that calls on the networks to set aside one hour of primetime for family-friendly viewing.

Although Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) are continuing to push for their “TV Improvement Act,” network lobbyists were confident Tuesday that the bill will not move any further in the legislative process. “That bill is going nowhere,” said one network lobbyist.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the bill and the committee’s chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was among those who signed a letter agreeing to a several-year moratorium on content legislation in return for beefed-up ratings.

Neither Lieberman nor Brownback endorsed the cease-fire, well aware that it would effectively block their hopes of a vote on the “TV Improvement Act” on the Senate floor. “This debate will not end just because of some modest changes to the TV ratings,” said a Lieberman aide Tuesday.

The Lieberman-Brownback legislation would give the networks an antitrust exemption to create a “voluntary” family hour. Needless to say, the networks do not want the antitrust exemption.

While Hundt’s endorsement will not help the bill’s legislative prospects, his public testimony will send a clear signal to broadcasters that the Clinton administration is not ready to lay down arms when it comes to the battle of TV culture. Hundt has close ties to Vice President Al Gore and his actions as FCC chairman are often viewed as a reflection of White House policy.

Hundt will be hosting his own hearing on the final TV ratings proposal next week. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC must decide if content code is “acceptable.” If the FCC finds that the code is unacceptable, it is authorized to appoint a committee to rewrite the rating system.

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