Media watchdogs object to negotiation hostage taking


Members of the watchdog community are not objecting so much to negotiations between cable operators and programmers – but they are objecting to the fact that consumers who pay good money for their cable service are often held hostage during the process.

Cristina C. Caballero, in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski written 3/5/10 while Cablevision/WABC negotiations were still in progress, wrote, “The recent news that transmission of WABC-TV might be terminated incident to negotiations between Disney and Cablevision draws attention to the practice of such broadcasters and cable companies, for the second time this year, of willingly leveraging the interests of consumers as part of their private negotiations. This type of conduct flies in the face of good faith and fair dealing, and it should not be encouraged or permitted by the Federal Communications Commission.”

She concluded, “It is our hope, therefore, that the Commission, under your leadership, will take a firm stand with the companies and require that, regardless of the outcome of their negotiations, carriage of WABC-TV will continue uninterrupted until an agreement is reached.”

Minority Media and Telecommunications Council Executive Director David Honig also weighed in, saying that he was expressing his own thoughts as a citizen and was not writing as a representative of his organization. Also addressing Genachowski, Honig wrote, “Events like the Superbowl and the Academy Awards have been used as leverage in these private retransmission consent negotiations. That is wrong. While the parties work out their differences, they should continue to satisfy consumers’ reasonable expectation that when they tune to Channel 7, they will see programming – not a slide that says ‘two large corporations couldn’t work out contract terms, so you, the viewer, have to suffer.’”

Honig went on to lament the dearth of reporting on serious issues facing minority communities, and said that is the kind of thing the FCC should be spending its time on. He said if television fails to provide in-depth coverage on important issues, “who cares whether their stations are available on cable?”