In networks vs. affils, FCC will referee spat

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In a victory for affiliates, the Federal Communications Commission last week launched proceedings seeking comment on the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance’s allegations that the major TV networks are abusing their affiliates in violation of agency rules.
The Big 4 TV networks had urged the FCC to ax NASA’s request for the proceedings, contending that the affiliates’ charges were groundless. But with the FCC’s action last week, the burden is now on the networks to prove that in legal filings that are due at the agency on July 23.
“NASA is pleased that the FCC will be giving serious consideration to the important issues raised in the petition,” said Alan Frank, NASA chairman and president of Post-Newsweek Stations. “We look forward to presenting our views and having the FCC confirm the meaning of the provisions of the Communications Act and the rules that are at stake here. ”
Network representatives said they believe they will be able to successfully defend themselves against the affiliate charges.
“If you read the affiliates’ complaint closely, as I have done, it’s pretty thin gruel,” said Bob Okun, NBC Washington vice president.
Added another network representative who requested anonymity, “This petition is all about money. The affiliates want to be insulated from the economics of today’s more difficult and competitive marketplace. We would love to return with them to yesteryear. But their
petition can’t deliver that for either of us.”
Filed at the FCC in early March, the NASA complaint alleges that the networks are running afoul of agency regulations by regularly demanding and getting agreements that effectively gut an affiliate’s freedom to pre-empt network programming.
The petition also alleges that Fox has been requiring affiliates to cede control of capacity on their digital channels, another purported violation. The petition also complains that Fox, NBC and ABC have been putting undue pressure on affiliates by including stipulations in affiliate agreements giving networks the right to refuse the transfer of an affiliation when a station is sold.