Briefly Noted

Jul 29, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Rigases arrested, charged with ‘looting’ Adelphia
John Rigas, the founder and former chairman and CEO of now-bankrupt Adelphia Communications, and his sons, Michael and Timothy Rigas, were arrested and charged last week with looting the nation’s sixth-largest multiple-system cable operator and using it as their “personal piggy bank.” Also arrested in Coudersport, Pa., the company’s headquarters, were James Brown, former VP of finance, and Michael Mulcahey, former director of internal reporting.
A Manhattan federal court filing contended that the Rigas family had “looted Adelphia on a massive scale, using the company as [its] personal piggy bank, at the expense of public investors and creditors.” In addition to criminal charges, the Securities and Exchange Commission has also filed a civil lawsuit in Manhattan, charging massive financial fraud by the family and other officials. The Rigas family allegedly received up to $3.1 billion in loans for which the company is now liable. Those loans generally were for questionable purposes and issued on questionable terms. The Rigas family members lost their executive positions and places on the company’s board after the disclosures of the loans. The discovery of the loans eventually led to Adelphia’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy-protection filing last month.
Burke to head merged AT&T-Comcast
Steve Burke will become president of the combined AT&T-Comcast cable operations after the merger closes later this year, Comcast Corp. President Brian Roberts said last week. Mr. Burke, currently president of Comcast Cable Communications, said the merged company will be organized into six regional divisions and 26 cable clusters. As reported earlier this month by Electronic Media, AT&T Broadband’s interim management, headed by cable president Bill Schleyer, will not remain with the merged entity.
Sharpton sues HBO for $1 billion
The Rev. Al Sharpton has filed a $1 billion libel lawsuit in Manhattan against HBO, claiming the cable network defamed him when it aired a nearly 20-year-old videotape showing him being approached by an undercover FBI agent about a cocaine deal. The lawsuit asks for $500 million in compensatory damages and $500 million in punitive damages from the defendants, which include HBO and HBO Real Sports. The 1983 tape, broadcast this week by HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” showed Rev. Sharpton responding “I hear you” as the agent described profits that would accrue to Rev. Sharpton if he participated in a drug deal. The Rev. Sharpton said in his defense that if you ask someone to marry you and the person replies “I hear you,” you shouldn’t begin planning a wedding. He also called the telecast part of a “smear campaign” targeting him in advance of a possible presidential campaign in 2004 and said that another tape existed in which he told the same agent directly that he would not be involved with drugs. An HBO spokesman called the suit “Unworthy of comment,” according to a Reuters wire report.
Adelstein clears key hurdle
Jonathan Adelstein’s nomination to a Democratic seat on the Federal Communications Commission was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last week. The nomination of Mr. Adelstein, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D, S.D., now moves to the full Senate for consideration and confirmation. It is unclear when the Senate will vote.
New format energizes MSNBC ratings
Getting a jump on the monthly ratings reports that will be released Tuesday, MSNBC reported last Friday that less than two weeks after launching its new lineup, weeknight viewership in July was up 30 percent over the previous month. From July 2 through July 24, Nielsen data showed MSNBC reaching an average 413,000 viewers per night. In comparison, CNN’s prime-time average was 905,000 viewers (up 4 percent from June) and Fox News Channel averaged 1.103 million viewers (up 2 percent). Year-to-year comparisons show Fox’s primetime viewership through July 24 is up 64 percent; MSNBC’s is up 38 percent; and CNN’s is up 32 percent. In the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. hour for July 2 to 24, “Donahue” boosted MSNBC’s viewership by 104 percent year-to-year to an average 468,000 viewers. “Connie Chung Tonight” boosted CNN’s viewership to 760,000 (up 26 percent), and Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor” was up 88 percent to 1.897 million viewers.
Petitti to CBS Sports
Less than a week after he was promoted from general manager of WCBS-TV, New York, to a newly created executive position with the Viacom stations group, Tony Petitti has opted to return to his sports roots as executive producer of CBS Sports. Mr. Petitti’s move necessitated the exit of Terry Ewert, who had been executive producer at CBS Sports since April 1997. A CBS spokesman said it is unlikely that anyone else will be named to the position of senior VP of operations for the Viacom group.