DirecTV deal in pols’ sights

McCain: Murdoch's acquisition would prompt hearings

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday he will most likely hold congressional hearings if Rupert Murdoch clinches a deal to add DirecTV to his vast empire.

“I think we have to look at the impact (of the deal) on competitiveness throughout the industry,” McCain said. However, the pol stressed that he has not taken a position on the matter. Same goes for other members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain heads. Panel has oversight of the media industry.

“Let me repeat one more time on the issue of the proposed merger: No member of the committee that I know of has taken a position on this issue,” McCain said during an afternoon press briefing.

If there’s a “merger or consolidation that has the appearance of possibly reducing competition, then the Commerce Committee has oversight and scrutiny and many times holds hearings,” he added. Panel did so after AOL and Time Warner announced their marriage.

Murdoch needn’t show

McCain said it wouldn’t be necessary for News Corp. chairman-CEO Murdoch himself to testify unless the media mogul so chose. “One thing about Mr. Murdoch, he’s never shy about appearing before Congress,” the pol said.

McCain insisted that his comments have nothing to do with the fact that political supporter Charlie Ergen, CEO of smaller U.S. satcaster EchoStar, has expressed interest in hooking up with DirecTV, himself. McCain noted that Murdoch also supported his 2000 presidential run and threw a fund-raiser for him in California.

News Corp.’s Peter Chernin said Thursday he was surprised by McCain’s comments, which seemed to contradict others McCain has made in the past. At a Senate hearing in 1997, McCain backed a strong satellite business as the only viable competition to cable and singled out Murdoch as a good man to mobilize the industry. Back then, Murdoch had forged a short-lived partnership with EchoStar.

Deal expected soon

News Corp. has been in talks with DirecTV parents Hughes Electronics and General Motors for the better part of a year. Negotiations faltered over price but resumed last week full steam ahead after News Corp. revised the terms. Insiders expect a deal to be struck as early as next month.

On May 17, media consolidation is sure to take a starring role when McCain’s committee holds a hearing on President Bush’s picks to fill three of the five seats at the FCC. New FCC chair Michael Powell is eager to welcome his new colleagues, as he is now faced with a 2-2 split.

Also, McCain aides said Thursday the pol will likely hold hearings in June on crucial FCC ownership caps. The nets are trying to get the caps overturned; smaller station groups want them to stay.