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FCC, Justice asked to probe Clear Channel

Jan 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

A California congressman has asked federal regulators to investigate the ownership and advertising practices of Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest radio operator, with 1,170 stations, and owner of 19 television properties.
Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat, made the request to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Jan. 22 after constituents raised concerns the company is exceeding broadcast ownership limits.
Similar allegations have been leveled before at San Antonio-based Clear Channel.
Federal law permits broadcasters to own a second TV station in major markets under certain conditions and up to eight radio stations in a market, depending on its size and how many stations are in it.
The complaint, which focuses on accusations that Clear Channel penalizes Britney Spears and other recording artists who don’t use its concert promotion service by burying their radio ads and refusing to play their songs, contains no specifics about the TV-related grievances.
But Rep. Berman’s spokesman Alec French said his boss is worried that Clear Channel will take control of two stations-KCBA-TV and KION-TV-in the relatively small Monterey/Salinas, Calif., market as a result of its merger with the Ackerley Group.
The two stations are now operated jointly under a local marketing agreement, which Clear Channel wants to inherit. Clear Channel already owns radio stations in the market.
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., in a November letter to the FCC, complained the transaction would create too much media concentration for one company in a market.
“Although supposed competitors, the facilities of KION-TV and KCBA-TV are located in the same building in Salinas,” he wrote, adding, “This hardly appears to be a competitive situation.”
Rep. Berman is also concerned that Clear Channel is relying on third parties and shell corporations to buy TV and radio properties in areas where it has reached the legal threshold so it can purchase the stations outright if the government further relaxes its restrictions.
An industry analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, said allegations of third-party control appear to be accurate in at least a few markets regarding radio properties.
“We believe we operate entirely within the law,” said Clear Channel spokeswoman Rebecca Allmon, who denied allegations of third-party ownership.
Another worry is that Clear Channel is trying to purchase Mexican radio stations that have reach into the San Diego market, where the company has met the federal ownership limits.
Meanwhile, the Berman constituents who made the accusations are remaining anonymous because they fear Clear Channel will use its radio dominance to marginalize them, Mr. French said.