Watchdog cries foul on ownership, coordinated retrans


FCCCBS knows by now it made a bad move by forcing CNET’s “Best of Show” award disqualification for Dish’s Hopper with Sling product. Now, because of it, the can of worms just got bigger: In a letter filed 1/22 with the Commission, Public Knowledge (PK) says Peacock’s move shows why the FCC should drop Chairman Genachowski’s proposal to loosen the ownership rules.

In November, Genachowski circulated to the agency’s four other commissioners a proposal “to streamline and modernize media ownership rules, including eliminating outdated prohibitions on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross-ownership.” It’s currently under review.

Genachowski’s proposed order would lift the ban on owning a newspaper and radio station in the same market, but keeps the cross-ownership ban between TV stations. PK has followed the dispute between DISH and the networks over its Hopper DVR and beleives DISH’s subscribers do not violate copyright law when they time-shift programming and watch it later, even if they skip past commercials. PK even went so far as to challenge coordinated retransmission consent negotiations.

Said John Bergmayer, Senior Staff attorney for PK, in the letter: “…CBS’s interference with the editorial independence of its subsidiary CNET shows that the incentive and ability of media conglomerates to distort the news and put corporate strategy above the values of fair reporting and the needs of readers and viewers remains unchanged, even in the online environment; and coordinated retransmission consent negotiations between television stations means that for many purposes they are engaging as one entity even though a formal merger between them would be otherwise unlawful.”

He adds, “Unfortunately, CBS’s actions outside the courtroom have implicated the Commission’s work on media ownership issues. Despite assurances by CBS and other opponents of media ownership rules, its actions have shown that a Commission licensee with an ownership interest in another media outlet will exert its editorial will, even into non-broadcast media such as online publications, and reduce viewpoint diversity in the marketplace of ideas. This is particularly true where, as here, the parent corporation’s own economic interests are believed to be at issue.”

See the full letter here

RBR-TVBR observation: Indeed, this letter goes well beyond disputing loosening the ownership rules when it comes to newspapers. This means online publications like CNet as well. As much as we wish CBS well in its battle with Dish over AutoHop, we can’t help but say what a bad move Moonves made (if indeed it’s true) in the CNet award edict. Hey, everyone makes mistakes, but this was a biggie.