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Lawmakers Say Government Should Stay Out of TV Ratings

Mar 17, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Congressmen Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., are urging their colleagues on Capitol Hill to stay out of the television ratings process.

“The Federal Trade Commission already has enough work to do without Congress telling it to intervene to fix a system that may need a few tweaks but certainly isn’t broken,” the congressmen said in a letter dated Thursday.

“Should it be the federal government’s responsibility to inform Americans that ‘American Idol’ was last week’s No. 1 show in its time slot? Would it truly be a wise use of taxpayer dollars to create a federal Department of Television Advertising just to set the price for Super Bowl advertising? We think not,” the two said in their letter.

The letter opened with a direct reference to Don’t Count Us Out, an activist coalition funded and advised by News Corp. that has been unsuccessful in stopping the rollout of Local People Meter services by Nielsen Media Research, the only company from which national data about TV viewing is available in this country.

Don’t Count Us Out, which argues that Hispanics and African Americans tend to be undercounted in LPM cities, is lobbying for federal oversight of the TV ratings business.

“We agree that these are important questions to debate but we believe they should appropriately be debated in the boardroom and not the halls of Congress,” wrote Reps. Burton and Jackson, who also registered their votes of confidence in the Media Rating Council, which audits research services offered by Nielsen Media Research.

Nielsen President and CEO Susan Whiting said, “Congressmen Burton and Jackson understand the value of a free and open market, and we greatly appreciate their thoughtful attention.”

Don’t Count Us Out campaign manager Josh Lahey issued a statement that said, in part: “The Don’t Count Us Out coalition believes that the current system needs fundamental reform because right now, Nielsen is a completely unregulated monopoly. It is not subject to free-market competitive pressure, nor to any independent oversight. That is an inherently dangerous situation in any industry. It is all the more troublesome when the industry in question has such a profound impact on our culture and economy.

“The Don’t Count Us Out coalition supports the efforts of Sen. [Conrad] Burns, Sen. [Gordon] Smith and the 22 members of Congress who have asked the FTC to clarify their jurisdictional authority on this issue,” the statement read.