FCC chief ducks Diller

Powell bows out of 'Nightline' Koppel chat

WASHINGTON — Refusing to share the spotlight with Barry Diller, FCC topper Michael Powell canceled an interview with ABC’s “Nightline” Thursday evening just four days before the agency is set to substantially loosen media ownership rules.

The FCC is poised to vote on the sweeping changes Monday, and Powell has repeatedly shrugged off calls to postpone his plan from a chorus of diverse critics covering the political spectrum from the National Rifle Assn. to the National Organization for Women.

With media attention over the issue reaching a crescendo this week, “Nightline” scheduled Powell for an interview segment with anchor Ted Koppel as part of an overall package on the pros and cons of the FCC’s landmark rewrite.

(That ABC, a major proponent of easing the rules, would tackle the issue was news in itself; critics have accused the major nets of imposing a blackout on the story.)

But just two hours before the interview, Powell’s spokesman, David Fiske, called to cancel because the package would also include interviews with Diller, as well as Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, according to several FCC sources.

“We had invited chairman Powell to be a guest on ‘Nightline.’ He accepted an invitation, but two hours prior to the scheduled taping of the interview, his staff called to cancel,” ABC spokeswoman Su-Lin Nichols said.

No format change

Nichols would not elaborate about the reasons Powell gave for the abrupt change of heart but defended ABC producers against attacks that they had changed the parameters of the interview on Powell at the last minute.

” ‘Nightline’ had always planned to have additional guests on the program in a separate interview segment,” she said.

Apparently, Powell did not believe he should face Diller because he is a major player in the industry the agency regulates.

Diller once controlled broad media holdings but is now the chief of USA Interactive, an Internet business that is far removed from the FCC’s media proceeding. Diller shocked many in the industry by proclaiming his opposition to easing restrictions at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention in early April. He has not backed off the issue since.

Whether Powell would have had to go toe to toe with Diller in an interview/debate is also under dispute.

Separate interviews

According to ABC, Diller’s appearance was planned for another segment and Koppel would have questioned Powell alone.

Opponents of Powell’s plan at the FCC seized on the cancellation as a sign that the pressure is getting to Powell.

“He didn’t want to go head to head with Diller because our argument is just too good,” one staffer remarked.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) tried to give Powell a helping hand Thursday.

“Critics of FCC chairman Michael Powell’s plan to deregulate antiquated media ownership rules have brought new meaning to the phrase static interference,” he said in a statement. “It’s time for these folks to adjust their antennas and tune in reality.”

Fiske declined to discuss details.

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