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Affils to FCC: ban nets from gorging on outlets

600 stations want court to reverse deregulatory action

NEW YORK — The war over media ownership rules waged on Wednesday as affiliates of ABC, CBS and NBC asked a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. to re-regulate and bar the networks from buying up more TV stations.

At issue is a national cap determining how much of the national viewing audience one company can reach.

The Federal Communications Commission recently lifted the cap from 35% to 45% of the national aud, potentially allowing companies such as GE, News Corp. and Viacom to buy up more owned-and-operated stations.

600 affils on board

More than 600 affiliates, repped by the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance, want the appeals court to reverse the FCC’s action. NASA argues that affils will lose all leverage if the nets are allowed to control more of the station market.

Networks say the affiliates are being hypocritical and that many of the NASA affils are owned by powerful stations groups successfully pushing for deregulation in other areas.

“This is not a battle between little mom-and-pop operations and big media companies,” one net exec said. “These are representatives of companies that are just trying to hold the market through selective regulation.”

NASA is not asking the court to reinstate other ownership rules also loosened by the FCC.

The battle will likely be resolved on Capitol Hill and not in the courtroom. Congress is considering legislation that would reinstate the 35% cap, proving the political power enjoyed by NASA and the National Assn. of Broadcasters.