Company responds to payola allegations

Clear Channel has responded to a senior lawmaker who questioned whether the radio giant was already violating a recent consent decree with the Federal Communications Commission over allegations of payola.

Andrew W. Levin, Clear Channel’s top lawyer, sent a letter Monday to Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), assuring him the company is in compliance with the decree, and that reports of violations have been the result of confusion over legal language.

Last April, while admitting no wrongdoing, CBS Radio, Entercom, Citadel and Clear Channel agreed to pay a $12.5 million collective fine to settle pay-for-play allegations and to abide by a voluntary set of “rules of engagement,” which mapped out standards for business dealings with labels, artists and their representatives. Included was an agreement to give airplay to local, unsigned bands and musicians.

Two weeks ago, Feingold wrote all four broadcasters asking for details of how they are ensuring compliance among their numerous stations. He singled out Clear Channel as possibly already in violation, because he had received reports that some of its stations “are requiring local, unsigned and independent musicians to grant a royalty-free right and license to the music upon submission to the radio programmers, which would appear to violate the voluntary agreement they entered into following the settlement.” (Daily Variety, July 12)

Levin told Feingold it was all a misunderstanding over rules for submitting music for consideration via the Internet. “While we never had any intention of not paying licensing fees for radio airplay or for online streaming of simulcast programs, Recording Artists Coalition and American Assn. of Independent Music brought to our attention that the licensing agreement associated with this new method of music submission could have been construed otherwise,” Levin wrote. “After fruitful discussions (with the two orgs), we agreed to clarify the language accordingly.”

To ensure that programming selection is unbiased and nondiscriminatory — another provision of the rules of engagement — Levin added that online submissions of new music “to individual station websites are made available to each of our local programming directors who make all programming decisions for their local communities. We do not issue corporate playlists.”

He also said Clear Channel is expanding airplay opportunities in general for local, regional, unsigned and indie artists.

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