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Feb 26, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Bashir Reportedly Headed to ABC News

One of the big stories Thursday in Britain was a report in The Guardian that Martin Bashir, the ITV and former BBC personality best known in the United States for sensational TV reports on Michael Jackson and Princess Di that were licensed by ABC, has been “poached” by ABC News for a reported $1 million a year.

The British newspaper said Mr. Bashir is expected to make the switch “to play a key part in ABC’s current affairs output” when Barbara Walters relinquishes her “20/20” anchor-correspondent role next fall. An ABC News spokesman declined to comment except to say that Mr. Bashir is “a talented journalist who would be a great addition to any newsroom.”

According to The Guardian, Mr. Bashir’s contract with ITV ends in July and ITV was unaware of its star’s plans until Wednesday, the day after “Living With Michael Jackson,” last year’s blockbuster documentary that preceded new allegations that Mr. Jackson is a child molester, was named program of the year by the Royal Television Society’s journalism awards.

The Guardian report’s suggestion that Mr. Bashir is “being groomed to take on Walters’ mantle” will have New York gossip writers salivating about a new round of items about fierce-and fiercely denied-in-house competition for the big gets with “Good Morning America” and “PrimeTime’s” Diane Sawyer.

Lawmakers Ponder Indecency Rules for Cable, Satellite: The legislative crackdown on broadcast indecency could soon be expanded to include cable and satellite TV. During hearings before the House telecommunications subcommittee this morning, key broadcast network representatives urged legislators to level the regulatory playing field between broadcasters and their pay-TV rivals. In addition, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the newly confirmed chairman of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, made clear that he is “troubled” by the fact that cable appears to be avoiding the regulatory furor over indecent programming that has been raging on Capitol Hill since Janet Jackson bared her breast Feb. 1 on the live CBS coverage of the Super Bowl halftime program. “It’s something we need to investigate,” Rep. Barton said.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Barton said the new committee chairman has yet to make up his mind whether to try to regulate cable. But she said as one of Rep. Barton’s first official actions as the committee’s chairman was to ask committee attorneys to look into the issue. “He’s going to investigate this issue inside and out,” she said.

Among the network executives asking lawmakers to extend indecency regulation to cable during the hearings was Bud Paxson, chairman and CEO of Paxson Communications, which owns the Pax network. Mr. Paxson asserted that cable TV and satellite providers carried 675 hours of “pornography” in Washington on Feb. 24 alone. Mr. Paxson said cable and satellite should be bound by the same regulations broadcasters are because they use satellite and microwave frequencies licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.

“No one sitting in this room can tell me it is in the public interest for cable and satellite providers to use the public’s spectrum and public right-of-ways to pipe indecent and obscene programming into America’s living rooms at all hours of the day without any constraints or limitations,” Mr. Paxson said. “But that is what is happening, day after day, in every city.”

Said a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, “The attempt by broadcasters to impose indecency regulations on cable is an effort to divert attention away from the issue of preventing indecent content from appearing on over-the-air broadcast stations.”

Rep. Barton’s spokeswoman, meanwhile, said legislation that would boost fines for broadcast indecency from $27,500 to $275,000 has been slated for a March 3 vote by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As of today, Rep. Barton had not decided to rule out any amendments.

Showtime Greenlights ‘Our Fathers’: Showtime said it greenlighted “Our Fathers,” an original film about the Roman Catholic Church pedophilia scandal. The film is based on Newsweek editor David France’s reporting and will be directed by Dan Curtis. Casting is currently under way, with pre-production scheduled to begin in April. The decision to produce “Our Fathers” comes just as a survey by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops outlining sexual abuse by more than 4,000 priests between 1950 and 2002 is due to be released.

Hearst-Argyle Reports Drop in Q4 Profit: Station group Hearst-Argyle Television Thursday reported an 11 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit to $33.9 million, or 36 cents a share, from $37.7 million, or 39 cents a share, a year ago, as a sharp drop in political advertising spending hurt the company’s bottom line. Revenue fell 8 percent to $190.6 million.

For the year, Hearst-Argyle, which owns 24 network-affiliated television stations, posted a 13 percent decline in profit to $94.2 million from a year-earlier figure of $108 million. On a per-share basis, the company’s profit was $1.00 vs. $1.15 a year ago. Revenue slipped 5 percent to $686.8 million.

Company officials said the declines were a direct result of taking in fewer political advertising dollars in 2003. The company’s political advertising revenue came in at $18.1 million, compared with the 2002 take of $73.3 million. In the quarter, political revenue was $9.3 million, down from $39.1 million a year ago.

Executives said they didn’t expect 2004 political revenue to beat the 2002 levels, given the lack of a hot senate or gubernatorial race in the markets where Hearst-Argyle owns television stations.

Other factors hurting the 2003 results included the absence of the Winter Olympics last year and the impact of the war in Iraq, which resulted in the company losing an estimated $5 million in advertising spending.

On a network basis, the company said its NBC stations posted revenue declines of 11 percent for the quarter and 5 percent for the year, while ABC stations posted drops of 6 percent for the quarter and 5 percent for the year. The company’s single CBS property saw revenue tumble 12 percent in the quarter and 2 percent for the year.

Insight Communications Reports Narrow 2003 Loss: Cable operator Insight Communications Thursday reported a narrowed 2003 loss of $14.2 million, or 41 cents a share, compared with red ink of $42.3 million, or $1.04 a share, a year ago, as the company saw gains from increased subscriptions to its high-speed data and digital cable services.

Those increases helped the New York-based cable company produce an 11 percent increase in revenue to $902.6 million.

The company said the improvements came as a result of a basic cable rate increase as well as a 59 percent surge in high-speed data revenue as a result of subscriber gains. Its digital cable service also added customers, leading to a 26 percent rise in digital cable revenue.

Meanwhile, Insight said its programming costs climbed 18 percent in 2003, thanks to programming fee hikes, an increase in the number of digital customers served and additional programming for recently rebuilt systems.