Aug 4, 2003  •  Post A Comment

In yet another flip-flop, the National Association of Broadcasters last week said it is going back to its original board-mandated position of support for legislation to roll back the national ownership cap to 35 percent, at least for the time being.
To the dismay of the association’s TV board members, NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts announced last month that the association had decided, without a board vote, to oppose all legislation to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership deregulation, out of concern he wouldn’t be able to prevent lawmakers from beefing up the measure with provisions nullifying deregulation that association members support. Sources said Mr. Fritts’ original decision to reverse course was the subject of extensive discussion at a special meeting of the NAB’s board in Washington last Monday.
Last week’s decision to shift back comes in the wake of a 400-21 vote by the House of Representatives to approve appropriations legislation that includes a Network Affiliated Stations Alliance-supported rider that focuses exclusively on the cap.
“So long as it’s a clean 35 percent rollback, NAB will support the legislation strongly,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the NAB.
Sources said the NAB board also decided to let NASA take the lead on legal challenges to the FCC’s decision to raise the cap from 35 percent to 45 percent of the nation’s TV homes, with underwriting provided by the NAB. NAB, according to one board source, is also supposed to endorse NASA’s cap position in a separate legal challenge focusing on aspects of the FCC’s decision relating to radio station ownership and a provision that many broadcasters believe fails to provide sufficient duopoly relief. The board, Mr. Wharton said, gave Mr. Fritts a unanimous vote of confidence.
In response to NAB’s latest turnaround, Ken Johnson, press secretary to Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., said, “Frankly, I’m not sure anybody is listening to the NAB right now. Despite Eddie Fritts’ best efforts to hold things together, the NAB’s image has taken a big hit from all the in-fighting.”