Guild reinforces consolidation opposition

Riskin: WGA won't let up in aversion to media mergers

HOLLYWOOD — WGA West president Victoria Riskin has pledged to continue the guild’s aggressive campaign against media consolidation after the FCC’s expected easing of ownership rules.

“We’ve had an extraordinary cross-section of interests come together in opposition to this,” Riskin declared Wednesday during a WGAW tele-conference. “There is a fundamental discomfort with the idea of too much power residing in the hands of too few people.”

Riskin’s remarks were endorsed by thesp and SAG board member Richard Dreyfuss, Producers Guild of America prexy Kathleen Kennedy, and writer-producers Allan Burns, Diane English and Larry Gelbart. All blamed corporate consolidation for the lack of new strong sitcoms — in the vein of “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “Frasier” — on free broadcast nets in recent years.

English, who exec produced “Murphy Brown,” said it has become far more difficult for producers to get sitcoms on the air without a mega-conglom owning the skein. Burns, whose credits include “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Rhoda” and “Lou Grant,” said producers have ceased to be risk-takers.

‘Afraid to speak out’

“TV producers feel like Democrats in Congress who are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs,” he added.

Defenders of deregulation have asserted that the growth of cable and satcasting have boosted choice and diversity, but Kennedy disputed that conclusion. “There’s been a failure to understand the difference between diversity and volume,” she added.

English also asserted it’s inappropriate that the general public, as owners of the airwaves, now have to pay in order to see most of the top-quality shows.

The WGAW, PGA and several indie producers have advocated a requirement that 50% of a broadcast or cable net’s programming be produced by a company independent of the distributor or its affiliates. But the FCC is expected to eliminate the ban on congloms owning multiple properties in one market and lift the national cap barring a broadcaster from reaching more than 35% of the national aud.

NRA’s odd bedfellows

Riskin noted the National Rifle Assn. was among the two dozen orgs expressing dissatisfaction Tuesday with the expected vote Monday by the three Republican FCC commissioners. The WGA West prexy has been one of the most vocal Hollywood opponents of the changes, pushed for the past year by FCC chief Michael Powell.

Riskin dismissed the possibility of a class-action suit as “complicated and expensive” and said the WGAW will seek hearings on the issue of ownership of programming and whether the FCC is adhering to the dictates of the landmark 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Dreyfuss also said the lack of reporting on the issue by major media underscores the need to keep pressing the issue. “I don’t think this issue is going away,” he added. “No one thinks this is going away on June 2.”

Earlier this year, the WGA West hired a lobbying firm, Washington, D.C.-based Public Strategies Inc., for representation on legislative and government affairs issues.

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