Affiliate stations say networks have too much control


Friday, March 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ More than 600 TV stations are complaining to federal regulators that the major networks have too much influence over programming decisions that impact what local viewers see.

In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, a group representing the stations _ which are all network affiliates _ say demands by the four major networks limit their ability to broadcast shows that are of interest to their own community.

The Network Affiliated Stations Alliance wants the FCC to look into certain practices by ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox in their relationships with affiliates.

``We are partners with the networks, but we cannot stand by and let them control our local stations,'' said Alan Frank, the alliance chairman and president of Post-Newseek Stations. ``We know what works best for our local communities, and by law, those decisions cannot be made in Hollywood or New York.''

Messages left at the FCC for comment were not immediately returned Thursday.

The alliance contends the networks violated commission rules that govern such relationships.

For example, the group says agreements between networks and affiliates include provisions that require the local stations to carry all the network's programming. Stations face losing their affiliation if they pre-empt more than a few hours of network shows without approval, the alliance said.

Some networks have included provisions in their agreements with affiliates that effectively gives them veto power over the sale of the local station to another entity, the petition said.

The group also raised questions about other practices that may not be addressed by specific commission rules, including network collaborations and networks repackaging programming to be carried on cable TV channels or Web sites. In the latter instance, some network shows encourage viewers to switch to a nonbroadcast medium, making it harder for broadcast stations to keep their audience, the group said.

Network officials denied the group's charges.

``This is an ill-advised and extremely disappointing action, particularly given CBS' strong, ongoing commitment to the network-affiliate relationship,'' CBS said in a statement.

NBC also expressed disappointment at the filing, which the network said comes even as it has ``made so much progress in terms of our relationship with our affiliates,'' NBC spokeswoman Kassie Canter said.

ABC spokeswoman Zenia Mucha said that rather than having the government step in, ``the public would be best served by deregulating the broadcast industry to reflect today's highly competitive environment.''

Some of the major networks would like to see the FCC eliminate or loosen a rule that blocks them from owning stations that reach more than 35 percent of U.S. households. Affiliates oppose relaxing the rules for fear this would give the networks even greater leverage.

An appeals court recently threw out similar restrictions on cable TV companies, raising questions about the constitutionality of those rules.

Fox said it was still reviewing the petition. The alliance does not include Fox affiliate stations, but said its concerns extend to all four networks.