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Editorial: Door opens for fin-syn II

Jun 24, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell is on the right track with his new plan to examine the full package of media ownership restrictions, his goal being to craft a set of regulations that will stand up in court.
An especially intriguing twist in the story line is the sudden emergence of a movement to slap limits on network ownership of programming-an idea that reminds industry insiders of the days of fin-syn, when networks were prevented from holding a financial interest in the programming they carried.
It’s an idea that has merit, and one that appears to be picking up momentum. It surfaced in a May 22 letter to Mr. Powell from a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and gained traction earlier this month when the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors joined the fight. The caucus, which was active in the fight to preserve the financial interest and syndication rules in the 1980s and 1990s, suggested specific percentage limits on the amount of programming networks should be allowed to own.
When fin-syn was eliminated in the mid-1990s, the networks promised never to abuse their ownership privileges by favoring their own shows over those of independent studios. It’s a promise that has since been broken-to the detriment of television and the public. One reason TV programming seems to be going downhill is that the networks are motivated now to maximize the profit potential of their programming, including keeping inferior shows afloat long enough to ensure a long-term payoff in syndication.
The nets have been conspicuously quiet about the threat of a sequel to fin-syn. When they have spoken publicly, it has been mainly to downplay the challenge. But it’s a safe bet that they are privately concerned, as they should be. The networks’ stakes in their programming have grown at an alarming rate since fin-syn was thrown out, and with the consolidation and vertical integration that have occurred since that time, their potential to abuse the ownership privilege is greater than ever. They’ve already demonstrated their penchant for pursuing profit at the expense of public interest.
The timing of the fin-syn II movement is good, coming as it does when the FCC is ready to get serious about media ownership rules. We hope the commission will give full consideration to including network program-ownership limits in the next round of media regulations.