Capital Watch


TV Groups Still Face Limits

TV groups expecting the FCC to help them knock down court roadblocks
to media consolidation were disappointed last week. Rules passed by the FCC in
2003 allowed TV-station owners to set up duopolies and buy newspapers in more
markets around the country. But federal judges ordered the FCC to rewrite the
rules in June and stayed any implementation of previous media-ownership
changes. The FCC asked the court to lift the stay, but only in the one area
where ownership restrictions were tightened. "There are no sound reasons for
maintaining the stay of the local radio-ownership rules," the FCC told the
federal appeals court judges in Philadelphia. New radio limits approved by
commissioners cut the number of radio stations an owner may control in some
small markets.

No Foul

"Dry humping" in prime time is apparently OK, according to the FCC.
Episodes of Will & Grace and Buffy the
Vampire Slayer
that depict actors cavorting are not considered
indecent. Americans for Decency and other groups had complained about a
Will & Grace episode that featured two female guest
characters kissing passionately and then engaging in a dry hump. But the FCC
said no indecency penalty is warranted because "both characters are fully
clothed, and there is no evidence that the activity depicted was dwelled upon,
or was used to pander, titillate or shock the audience." Applying similar
reasoning, the FCC also dismissed a Parents Television Council complaint about
an installment of Buffy that shows her kissing and
straddling Spike prior to having sex.

Joint Sales Pacts in Jeopardy

TV stations could soon find it harder to rely on other stations to
drum up ads. Two stations in the same market would be considered commonly owned
when they enter into a joint sales agreement under a rule being considered by
the FCC. In essence, joint sales agreements could effectively be banned in
markets with fewer than eight separately owned stations since co-owned
stations, or duopolies, are forbidden in markets that small. Under the typical
joint sales agreement, a station owner authorizes a broker to sell some or all
of its ad time in return for a fee or cut of the revenue. Last summer, the FCC
voted that radio joint sales agreements between same-market stations would be
considered duopolies. The tightened rule could be implemented within six
months, after a round of public comment.

Fallout From Mexican AM Interference

A California broadcaster faces a $20,000 fine and possibly tougher
punishment for providing programming to three Mexican stations that generated
massive interference for more that a dozen AM stations in the western U.S. The
FCC proposed fining Pacific Spanish because the Mexican stations were operating
at high power levels and, in one case, on a different channel than approved by
U.S. officials. (Pacific Spanish can appeal.) The interference flap led to a
minor diplomatic dust-up between the Mexican and U.S. governments. A 1986
treaty requires the two governments to coordinate technical details for TV and
radio stations operating along the border. U.S. officials were disturbed that
Mexico would ignore the treaty, possibly leading to more disputes as DTV
stations build along the borders. In June, the Mexican government ordered the
three stations to cut their power.