Federal firestorm

Pol urges FTC to probe Nielsen People Meters

WASHINGTON — Calling Nielsen an “unchecked monopoly power,” Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the TV ratings company and its controversial new Local People Meter ratings system.

Burns sent a letter Thursday to FTC topper Deborah Majoras asking the agency to look into the rating system — which critics say undercounts minority viewers — and threatened to introduce legislation to set up an oversight organization if it decides not to do so.

Missive asked Majoras to determine if the FTC has jurisdiction over the ratings system and the power to compel a change if the agency finds it is not being run in a fair and accurate manner.

Burns also wants to beef up the Media Ratings Council, a ratings accreditation org, to give it more power over the ratings process. He would like the FTC to reach out to the MRC and the Federal Communications Commission and hold meetings to facilitate more discussion about the People Meters.

“If it is found that the present situation cannot be remedied within the existing framework, it is my intention to introduce legislation that would mandate specific actions to create an oversight regime to more effectively safeguard the public interest,” he wrote.

FTC spokeswoman Nancy Ness Judy acknowledged receiving the letter, but said only that the agency expected to review it.

Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus did not appear concerned about the prospect of government intervention.

Loftus recalled that Burns held a hearing on the matter earlier this year, in which the senator concluded he didn’t think legislation was necessary to resolve concerns over Nielsen’s counting of minority television viewers.

“When the FTC looks at this and considers regulating all ratings — TVs, magazines, everything — I think they will probably conclude that the heavy hand of government is not warranted in this case,” he said, echoing Burns’ line from the hearing.

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