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Pols push bill for ratings accreditation

Sen. Burns has been critical of Nielsen's LPMs

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced in the Senate on Friday would require that all media ratings services — such as Nielsen’s local people meters — be accredited by the Media Ratings Council before they can be deployed.

The Fairness, Accuracy, Inclusivity and Responsiveness in Ratings Act of 2005, authored by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Me.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and George Allen (R-Va.), would apply to any changes or upgrades to existing services.

Currently, MRC accreditation is voluntary.

Burns has been critical of Nielsen’s LPMs, which some broadcasters — mostly Fox — have alleged tend to undercount minority auds. Recently Burns asked the Federal Trade Commission to oversee LPMs, but the agency declined, prompting the disappointed senator to declare he would introduce legislation “should the evidence indicate that it would be in the public interest to do so.”

Congress created the MRC four decades ago. It is now an industry-run entity.

Bias alleged

“We are disappointed that political leaders who espouse free-market principles would use the power of the federal government to choose sides in a commercial dispute among private businesses,” Nielsen said in a statement. “This bill, which was drafted in cooperation with News Corp., would benefit only those companies who want to maintain the status quo in the television industry. The bill subjects Nielsen Media alone to government control. No other media survey company is impacted.

“Contrary to the claims of its supporters,” the statement continued, “this bill means more federal regulation of television, more bureaucracy, slower introduction of new technology, higher costs, less competition and less accurate ratings. It would also violate antitrust laws and transform the Media Rating Council into a virtual arm of the federal government.”

In a statement, Cynthia J. Rotunno, exec director of the Don’t Count Us out Coalition, underwritten partially by Fox to protest LPMs, welcomed the bill.

“Over the past year, it has become more and more evident that the Media Ratings Council has all the responsibility but lacks the enforcement authority to hold Nielsen accountable for TV ratings accuracy. There is no mandatory system of checks and balances over Nielsen and fault rates in existing markets continue to be disproportionately high nationwide, especially among Latino and African-American households. The FAIR bill is simple and common-sense.”

Bill is expected to get a Senate hearing later this month.

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