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Powell down on fin-syn

Mar 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The Hollywood creative community’s campaign to force major TV networks to carry at least some independently owned programming hit a formidable obstacle last week: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell.
“A tall order,” Mr. Powell said of the proposal at a press conference. “Anyone who is inclined to have a rule actually developed … has a pretty huge set of hurdles you have to overcome.”
Under the general pitch at issue, independent producers have asked the FCC to adopt new rules that would limit how many of the programs on a network’s schedule the network can own.
The caps are similar in intent to fin-syn restrictions that the agency threw out almost a decade ago.
At least according to independent producers, elimination of the rules, which barred networks from acquiring interests in their prime-time entertainment fare, has given networks a virtual stranglehold over the TV programming business.
Independent producers also say the new cap proposals, which would bar networks from acquiring interests in up to half of their prime-time entertainment fare, would serve the interests of the public by ensuring that some non-network-owned TV programming makes it to the air.
But at a press briefing last week, Mr. Powell made clear his skepticism about the caps, contending that the original fin-syn rules had been slammed by the federal courts and that any new regulations would be “bitterly contested” by the TV networks, most of which are now owned by powerful major Hollywood studios.
“One would be well advised to read the [court] opinion again before you get too excited about this prospect,” the chairman added.
Representatives of Hollywood’s creative community, who have pitched the cap concept in comments in an FCC proceeding reviewing the need for agency broadcast ownership rules, vowed to continue their fight.
“We didn’t expect Chairman Powell to be sympathetic, but there are four other commissioners on the FCC,” said Jonathan Rintels, executive director of the Center for the Creative Community.
At deadline, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat who has been leading the agency opposition to Mr. Powell on the regulatory front, was not available for comment.
But an aide said, “We’re keeping an open mind with respect to all the possibilities before us.”