Washington Notes: Media Firms Target Red Lion

Feb 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a major threat to the legal rationale for broadcast ownership restrictions, TV network and newspaper owners last week urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Red Lion-the landmark 1969 decision by the high court that established the justification for many radio and TV industry rules. The Red Lion case held that because broadcasters use a scarce government resource, the public airwaves, to deliver their programming, the Federal Communications Commission is justified in its special regulation of the industry in the public interest.

The case has been used ever since to rationalize a host of FCC broadcast regulations, including one that bars owners of daily newspapers from acquiring radio or TV stations in their communities. But in a series of filings Jan. 31 at the Supreme Court, major media companies, including NBC Universal, Fox Entertainment Group, Viacom, Tribune, Media General, Belo Corp., Gannett Co., Morris Communications Co. and the Newspaper Association of America, asked the high court to re-examine Red Lion.

“This case presents this court with the opportunity to resolve whether broadcast speech is to be accorded full First Amendment protection,” Tribune and major TV network owners said in a filing that also urges the high court to overturn a controversial federal appeals court decision last year that blocked FCC media ownership deregulation. The Department of Justice and the FCC announced last week they would not appeal the media ownership case, a development that some court observers said reduces the likelihood the high court will accept a review. But an industry attorney said the federal government will have an opportunity to reconsider now that the industry has filed its challenges.

NAB’s Fritts Mum About His Retirement Plans

National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Eddie Fritts is widely expected to announce his retirement within the next several weeks. But asked directly about his plans last week, Mr. Fritts reiterated that he has made no announcement on the topic. “At the appropriate time, I will,” he said. An industry source said Mr. Fritts would continue serving at the association pending the hire of his successor.

Senate Panel Shakeup Cuts McCain’s Role

New Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, unveiled a reorganization plan last week for the committee that eliminates the Senate communications subcommittee-a panel that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hoped to chair this year. The move was expected (TelevisionWeek, Jan. 17).

Sources said the reorganization ensures that media industry issues will now be handled exclusively at the full committee level under Sen. Stevens’ chairmanship. The reorganization promises to dramatically decrease Sen. McCain’s influence over media industry legislation. Sen. McCain, who chaired the Commerce Committee before Sen. Stevens, remains a member of the committee.

PTC Targets MTV Programming, Advertisers

In an effort to encourage MTV to clean up its programming, the Parents Television Council has announced a plan to target the cable network’s advertisers with negative publicity. “If it weren’t for their money, this garbage wouldn’t be on TV,” said Brent Bozell, PTC president, at a press briefing last week in Washington. “The politics of shame is a wonderful thing.”

MTV is of particular concern to Mr. Bozell. A new PTC study alleges that the network, which is watched by 73 percent of boys and 78 percent of girls ages 12 to 19, glamorizes drug and alcohol use, sexual promiscuity and violence. The study also claims MTV reality programming included an average of 13 sexual scenes per hour, while the network’s music videos included 32 foul language references per hour during the study period, March 20-27, 2004. Mr. Bozell also said MTV’s example presents a powerful case for a shift to a la carte pricing in cable, giving parents a choice in determining what cable programming they want to subsidize and allow into their homes.

“The incessant sleaze on MTV presents the most compelling case yet for consumer cable choice,” Mr. Bozell said. “Given a choice, how many parents now being forced to take and pay for MTV as part of a basic cable package would continue to do so?”

An MTV spokesperson said the PTC’s study falls short by failing to pay adequate heed to MTV initiatives such as “Choose or Lose,” a political awareness program. “To paint MTV with this brush of irresponsibility is inaccurate and unfair,” the spokesperson said. “We reflect young people’s culture in a very honest, creative and responsible way.”