AFFILIATES, stations oppose lifting TV cap

Tuesday, May 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation's broadcasting lobby and more than 600 network affiliate stations are asking a federal appeals court to keep in place restrictions on how big a TV company can grow.

Specifically, they want the court to retain a federal rule that prevents one entity from owning TV stations that reach more than 35 percent of U.S. households.

Major networks Fox, NBC and CBS have petitioned the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to throw out the cap. They believe it no longer has a place in today's media environment, where the Internet and other outlets provide a diversity of viewpoints for consumers. The networks also have argued that the rule intrudes on their First Amendment rights, since it limits how many people one company can talk to.

But local stations say that relaxing the rule will give the networks too much control and an even stronger hand in negotiations with their affiliates. With this bargaining power, networks can demand that all their national programming be carried through by local affiliates, argued the National Association of Broadcasters and the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance in a petition filed with the court Tuesday.

In turn, stations will lose their ability to pre-empt national programming to air shows of interest to their local area, the groups said.

``This shift in the balance of power has already begun to impinge on the ability of consumers to view local programming that meets community needs,'' the groups wrote.

The split between networks and local affiliates over the cap has become so tense that all the major networks except for ABC have dropped out of the broadcasters association. The affiliated stations alliance represents more than 600 TV stations, which are affiliates of NBC, ABC and CBS.

The court will hear oral arguments on the case this fall. Earlier this year, the same court threw out similar restrictions on cable TV companies _ a move many believe gives new vigor to the networks' battle against the broadcast limit.

On another media regulation, the Federal Communications Commission had planned to propose changes Thursday to a rule that currently prohibits one company from owning a broadcast station and newspaper in the same market. The FCC said Tuesday it would delay taking up this issue to an unspecified date.