Fritts critical of new FCC rules

NAB prez skeptical of 'diversity index'

WASHINGTON — Struggling to defend his turf, National Assn. of Broadcasters prexy Edward Fritts on Wednesday took aim at a key component of FCC topper Michael Powell’s plan to rewrite media ownership rules.

Time is running short before sweeping regs governing media mergers become law, as skedded in early June.

Fritts took advantage of a luncheon gathering of FCC officials and industry leaders sponsored by the Media Institute to politely, but firmly criticize the so-called “diversity index,” a model for determining when media mergers cause unacceptable concentration in local markets.

The idea of using the index, the details of which the FCC is still developing, has gained ground in recent days. But Fritts remains extremely skeptical.

“We’ve examined the idea from many different perspectives, but we’re concerned that applying such an index will be difficult, if not impossible, to administer,” he said. “We look forward to learning more about this proposal.”

Several times during the speech, Fritts stressed that the NAB is a proponent of “modest change” when it comes to television.

In essence, the group wants to maintain a cap barring one broadcaster from owning stations that reach more than 35% of the national audience. Fritts sent a letter to the FCC reasserting that position Tuesday after one of its leading members, Belo Corp., backed away from that position, saying it could stomach a 45% bar.

But NAB also ardently defends the deregulation of the radio industry, which has lead to sprawling congloms, such as Clear Channel.

Responding to questions about the apparent inconsistency, Fritts claimed that radio and television are entirely different mediums.

“There are 1,300 commercial TV stations, compared to 13,000 radio stations,” he said.

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