Capital Watch


NASA, NAB Slam FCC Study

An FCC study ignored Economics 101 when it concluded that network O&Os air more local news than affiliates do, the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance and the NAB said last week. The study failed to consider that O&Os are more prevalent in the larger markets most capable of supporting strong newscasts, the groups said in a filing at the FCC. Failure to compare newscasts within similar markets violates a basic tenet of economics: that all variables but the one examined must be held constant, they said. Failure to hold other factors constant is a "common fallacy" of economists, the groups argued, quoting Paul Samuelson, Nobel laureate and principal author of Economics, the best-known introductory economics text.

The local-news study was one of several the FCC issued recently to support sweeping revisions to media-ownership rules.

NASA and the NAB are fighting the major networks' effort to increase the 35% cap on one company's TV-household reach.

FTC Shoots Holes in Donut Diet

We knew it was too good to be true. The FTC has filed suit against a diet product that claimed in radio ads that it would take off pounds effortlessly (without diet or exercise) while allowing its customers to eat "pizza, beer, tacos, nachos, cheese grits, and donuts."

According to the FTC, which has pledged to crack down on diet scams, the 30- and 60-second radio spots for Body Solutions products had been running on 650 stations in 110 markets. The commission said the product was being marketed primarily through deceptive radio ads, many using DJ endorsements. "Typically, the ads were read by local radio personalities who purportedly used the product and were presenting their personal experience," the FTC said.

Texas and Illinois are among a number of states that will file separate suits against Body Solutions marketer Mark Nutritionals, which filed for bankruptcy in September.

Despite the raft of broadcaster testimonials, the FTC complaint did not allege that the DJs or stations had knowingly engaged in deceptive practices, saying that there is a placebo effect that could account for losing weight. The FTC has been encouraging broadcasters to work with the agency to better screen diet and nutritional-supplement ads for patently false or deceptive claims.

Adelstein Backs Broadband Boost

One of new FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein's top priorities will be speeding broadband deployment, which will help revive the sagging telecommunications industry and bring more high-speed services to rural and other underserved areas, the South Dakota native said in his first briefing with reporters last week. Adelstein applauded the FCC's decision to hold a field hearing on ownership, saying, "There is no more important issue that we're faced with" than the pending rewrite of ownership rules.

Regarding Commissioner Michael Copps's effort to clamp down on broadcast indecency, Adelstein said his fellow Democrat has "raised some important issues."

CWA Pans Pole Preservatives

The Communications Workers of America has joined a lawsuit against the EPA, attempting to force the agency to crack down on the use of chromated copper arsenate (CCA), pentachlorophenol and creosote as wood preservatives on utility poles. The chemicals, says CWA, pose serious long-term health risks, including cancers, birth defects, kidney and liver damage, and neurological disorders.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has overwhelming data on the effects of these preservatives both on workers' health and the environment but has failed to act to safeguard the public, workers and the environment," the suit charges.

The EPA has scheduled a partial phase-out of the wood preservatives, but CWA and environmental group Beyond Pesticides say its plan is inadequate. CWA says it has about 25,000 members, primarily telephone repair people and installers, who "come into regular contact with utility poles that have been treated with these dangerous substances."

Although the majority of cable workers who could be affected by exposure are nonunion, CWA does represent some cable employees at AT&T Comcast, Charter, Adelphia and elsewhere. The suit was filed this week in a federal district court in Washington last week

More AP in D.C.

To pick up the slack and fulfill the contracts it picked up when Conus scaled back in September, Associated Press has launched a Washington video news service, APTN Washington Direct, for coverage of the federal government. Live shots, edited footage, crews and satellite transmission capability will all be available to customers looking to lower newsgathering costs for stories out of the White House, Pentagon, the State Department, Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

There will be a daily 4:30 p.m. ET feed of sound bites and b-roll, as well as customized capability via APTN Broadcast Services in Washington.

'Brownout' Report To Be Released

The Washington-based National Association of Hispanic Journalists is expected next Monday to release its annual "Network Brownout" report on coverage—or, more to the point, undercoverage—of Hispanics and Hispanic issues by the major news networks: identified by the group as ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN.

Word has it that the report concludes that, although the networks have made a few improvements, there remain major problems with coverage. One improvement is that, in stories that do deal with Latino issues, the number of Latinos actually interviewed for the stories has increased considerably.

NAHJ is also looking to increase the number of networks it surveys. It has so far been limited by the number archived by the Vanderbilt University Television Archives, but NAHJ Communications Director Joseph Torres says he would like to add Fox, MSNBC and others and that NAHJ is always looking for ways to improve the study.

NATPE Salutes Tauzin

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) will get NATPE's Chairman's Award at its annual show January in New Orleans. "He has played a major role on Capitol Hill in helping our industry grow during the most exciting chapter of its history," said NATPE Chairman and Fox executive Tony Vinciquerra, "while also progressively challenging the business to employ its medium so that we provide the best services, entertainment and information to the public."