Fox affils back NASA campaign

Sep 16, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In a morale booster for network affiliates, the Fox Television Affiliates Association last week formally endorsed the effort of the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance to persuade the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on alleged network abuses.
NASA, which represents the Big 3 TV networks, has been trying to persuade the FCC for more than a year to stop the networks from limiting the ability of affiliates to pre-empt network programming.
At least according to the affiliates, some network tactics run afoul of the FCC’s right-to-reject rule.
The networks also have been using as ammo the fact that the Fox affiliates have opted thus far to stay out of the fight against NASA-and in particular against the criticisms that NASA has raised about Fox’s efforts to limit program pre-emptions.
But the Fox affiliates entered the fray Sept. 10 in the form of a letter to the FCC from John Topper, chairman of the Fox affiliates association.
“News Corp. [Fox’s owner] has urged the commission not to address the issues raised by NASA with respect to Fox’s affiliation agreements, because the FBC Television Affiliates Association has not itself raised these issues with the commission,” Mr. Topper said. “This letter is to affirm that we believe that the issues raised by NASA are important to Fox affiliates and therefore should be addressed.”
At deadline, representatives of News Corp. had not returned telephone calls.
But Alan Frank, NASA chairman and president and CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations, said the filing blows up a key network argument.
“This reiterates that the issue pertains to all networks and their affiliates,” Mr. Frank said.
In a separate filing at the FCC last week, NASA also said a recent proposal by Fox to rewrite its standard affiliation contract to address affiliate concerns falls short.
“Fox continues to insist that affiliates pledge up front that they do not foresee any need to substitute programming of greater local or national importance except to present locally originated, nonentertainment, nonreligious, timely public-interest programming, such as election coverage, live coverage of fast-breaking news events, political debates, town hall-type meetings and telethons that serve the public interest and that are approved by Fox,”’ NASA said. “This provision does, and is intended to, hinder Fox affiliates from using independent judgment to refuse or reject programs that are, in the affiliate’s opinion, of greater local or national importance; therefore, it is inconsistent with the Right to Reject rule.”
At a press briefing last week, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said he didn’t know when the agency would decide what to do about the affiliate request.
“It’s one of those things that’s on the floor and doesn’t have a consensus yet,” Mr. Powell said.
Sources said the FCC appears to be stuck 2-2 on the issue, with Chairman Powell and Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy making it clear they would prefer to dismiss the NASA case on procedural grounds. Sources said Kevin Martin and the FCC’s fourth commissioner-Democrat Michael Copps-believe the FCC should rule on the petition.