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Cable heads lash back at FCC

McSlarrow: government should stay out

LAS VEGAS — The cable television industry responded loudly and clearly on Tuesday to admonitions that FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin made to the industry in his keynote speech on Monday.

“Don’t tread on me or my business” was the essential theme of a message that execs sent not just to Martin but government regulators in general.

National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. topper Kyle McSlarrow opened his “state of the industry” address at NCTA’s annual convention Tuesday by thanking Martin for having spoken frankly the previous day about differences between the industry and the commission, and for promising an honest, open dialogue about those differences.

But McSlarrow also responded to two specific points Martin made — one about offering a la carte subscription services, the other about mandatory cable carriage of all digital signals a broadcaster can transmit. Cablers oppose both propositions.

“When the market is highly competitive, the government should stay out,” McSlarrow said.

A la carte, he continued, is “a form of government enforced unbundling,” while the mandatory carriage of all digital broadcasts “forces bundling of programming that otherwise wouldn’t make it.”

“You can’t have it both ways,” McSlarrow said, using the identical phrase that Martin used Monday in chiding the industry for its positions on the two issues.

During a panel discussion that ensued, News Corp. prexy-chief Peter Chernin said, “A la carte is government intrusion at its worst.”

Chernin also vowed to fight legally any legislation that might result from the FCC’s recent TV violence report, which recommended regulation as a possible means of protecting kids.

Time Warner chairman and CEO Richard Parsons said that attempts to regulate are the result of political pressures tied to elections.

“Right now it seems the best way to get elected is to run to the extremes,” Parsons said. “There are entrenched and very vocal minority groups that are distorting the conversation” on content.

“Visit the Holocaust museum in Washington and you’ll see what happens when government gets control of the message,” Parsons said.

Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom, said that “a common sense point of view” is all that’s needed for content issues. “Look at Imus. There was a public outcry and the problem was taken care of.”

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