Affils in court to keep caps

Public interest would be damaged, they argue

WASHINGTON — Sharpening the sword of battle, affiliates told a federal court they will be crushed by the Big Four if an ownership cap barring the nets from further expansion is lifted.

In court documents filed Monday evening, affils and the National Assn. of Broadcasters argued that the public interest will be damaged if the robes strike down the national cap, which prohibits a broadcasters from reaching more than 35% of the national audience.

“If networks are permitted to own stations covering a greater percentage of the national market, local stations are in danger of becoming, as Congress feared, more ‘passive conduits for network transmissions from New York,’ ” filing said.

Legal papers were drawn up by NAB and the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance (NASA), which represents the more than 600 ABC, CBS and NBC affils.

Viacom/CBS, Fox Television Stations, NBC and Time Warner Entertainment are asking the appeals court to overturn the cap, just as the robes recently struck down a national cable cap. Nets say the Federal Communications Commission limits are arbitrary and unconstitutional.

In their court filing, affils said it’s absurd for the nets to play the victim, considering the deregulation of recent years.

Prevailing sentiment in the nation’s capital, however, has it that the appeals court will indeed modify or strike down altogether the broadcast cap. Bets increased tenfold after the court struck down the cable cap, which barred a cabler from reaching more than 30% of the national market.

Further, affils argued that the broadcast cap can’t be compared with the cable cap, as Congress set the broadcast rule. “The statutory enactment of the 35% cap was no casual decision on Congress’ part,” NASA said. “Rather, it was the product of lengthy deliberation and, ultimately, legislative compromise.”

NASA and NAB used as an example last year’s instruction by NBC that its affils carry Game One of the American League Division Series rather than the first presidential debate. After the affils complained, NBC ultimately backed down and let the game be preempted for the debate.

Affils also object to the relaxation of a rule prohibiting a cabler from owning a broadcast station in the same market, noting rule is an essential tool that provides advertising competition in local markets.