Indie Producers ‘Endangered’

Jun 9, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Even though everybody said they knew it would happen, representatives of the creative community still felt disappointment and anger when the Federal Communications Commission eased media ownership restrictions last week. Most had campaigned against it.
“It’s a nearly fatal blow,” said Mickey Gardner of the Coalition for Program Diversity, a lobbying group whose backers include Wolf Films and Pariah. “Independent producers are literally an endangered species.”
There was an unexpected upside to the controversial decision, however. Some creative community representatives pointed out that the FCC vote has drawn a surprisingly diverse coalition of protest-from the National Organization for Women to the National Rifle Association. And the opponents of deregulation continue to hold out for congressional intervention.
“The way the FCC went about this, by not considering the issues, they’ve galvanized us,” said Jonathan Rintels, spokesman for the Washington-based lobbying group Center for the Creative Community. “We’re not giving up the fight.”
Even as the June 2 vote neared, some held out hope that the FCC would adopt a proposal that would require 50 percent of a broadcast or cable network’s programming to be produced by a company independent of the distributor. However, the proposal received little attention from the commission’s Republican majority and was not included in the set of rules it approved.
Now the creative community is grappling with the question of what to do next. The possibility of class-action lawsuits is being weighed, but nobody is willing to publicly endorse a civil action just yet.
“We intend to wait and see what the real-world results of this policy might be before mounting any further organized challenges to its legitimacy,” said Producers Guild of America Executive Director Vance Van Petten. “One implication for producers is clear: Members of the producing profession absolutely must come together and speak with a single voice to fight the further erosion of independent outlets for their product.”
Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists used the defeat to continue the push for the pending amalgamation of the two groups under a new umbrella organization. They said they plan to battle network consolidation with union consolidation.
AFTRA spokeswoman Jayne Wallace noted that combining the groups would strengthen lobbying efforts. There is also talk of consolidating with the Actors’ Equity Association.
AFTRA has a sense of urgency because it is concerned that the FCC decision will cost the guild leverage during contract negotiations. “There’s no question that two unions together will have greater clout at the bargaining table,” Ms. Wallace said.
But Victoria Riskin, president of the Writers Guild of America West, said the FCC vote’s effect on future negotiations is “hard to predict.”
“On one hand, if you have fewer companies you can make a deal more quickly,” Ms. Riskin said. “On the other, then you have to be concerned when you’re dealing with behemoths. I would genuinely hope it wouldn’t have an effect on collective bargaining, because both are interested in reaching an agreement and avoiding work stops.”