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Capital Watch - Broadcasting & Cable

Capital Watch

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Green Light: FCC Lifts Freeze

The Media Bureau moved quickly last week to lift the freeze on station-transfer applications it had imposed Sept. 5 following a court stay of the new ownership rules. It has decided instead to process the applications under the old rules now in effect and using the old forms (it had come up with new ones to reflect the new rules). Unfreezing commercial applications will require an immediate temporary freeze on noncommercial applications—which, unaffected by the new rules, had been allowed to continue apace using the new forms—until the FCC's public notice is published in the Federal Register. That public notice will trigger the "unfreeze" and a return to the old forms for commercial and noncommercial transfers alike.

Before the "unfreeze" can take effect, the FCC must first publish notification in the Federal Register, which it is hoping to do within a matter of days, at which point it will be business as "used to be usual," at least for the time being.

FCC OK's Stern Interview

Responding to a request from Infinity Broadcasting, the FCC's Media Bureau last week said that interviews with political candidates on Howard Stern's radio show qualify as bona fide news and are exempt from equal-time requirements, paving the way for an interview with California gubernatorial hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The FCC decision generated lots of news copy—and an incensed release from the Parent's Television Council—suggesting that the FCC had declared Stern's often raunchy show a news program, which the commission hastened to point out was not the case. It had, instead, said that candidate interviews in Stern segments that met the requirements for a waiver—regularly scheduled, not done to advance a candidate, and with the show retaining editorial control—qualified for that waiver.

It also effectively gave notice that similar shows need not seek a declaratory ruling. "Although we take this action in response to Infinity's request," the bureau said, "we emphasize that licensees airing programs that meet the statutory news exemption, as clarified in our case law, need not seek formal declaration from the commission that such programs qualify as news-exempt programming."

Originally, the exemption applied only to traditional political Q&A programs, such as Face the Nation or Meet the Press, but the commission loosened the definition in 1984. Saying that Donahue segments qualified for the exemption, the FCC said nontraditional forms could earn it, as well as news segments in otherwise entertainment shows. Subsequently, The Jerry Springer Show, Sally Jessy Raphael and Politically Incorrect all qualified.

Powell Names Adviser

Christopher Libertelli, FCC Chairman Michael Powell's wireline competition legal adviser, has been named senior legal adviser. Before joining the FCC in 1999, Libertelli was with the communications law firm of Dow, Lohnes & Albertson. At the FCC, he has served as special counsel for competition policy in the Wireline Competition Bureau and attorney-adviser in the Common Carrier Bureau's policy division.

AAF Picks Early Achievers

The Washington-based American Advertising Federation has picked seven new members for its Advertising Hall of Achievement. The hall honors advertising executives age 40 and under who are making a "significant impact" on the industry. The members to be inducted: Kathy Delaney, Deutsch Inc.; David Droga, Publicis; Susan Mboya, Procter & Gamble; John Osborn, BBDO North America; Stephen Pasierb, Partnership for a Drug-Free America; Michael Sands, Snapple Group (Motts); and Christopher Schroeder, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. The class of 2003 will be saluted at a lunch Nov. 18 in New York.

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