Federal Communications Commission Democrats are charging chairman Michael Powell with pulling a fast one to help Fox, CBS, Paxson Communications Corp. and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. to comply with limits on the number of TV stations they can own.
Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein complained that a review of the "UHF discount," which Powell announced without consulting them, is a ruse to persuade federal judges to dismiss lawsuits against the 20-year-old rule.
The discount allows some big companies to run groups that reach more viewers than otherwise permitted by the 39% cap on one owner’s national TV household reach. Now that cable carriage rights have raised UHFs’ stature relative to VHFs’, the two commissioners say the FCC should have more seriously considered eliminating it when broadcast ownership rules were revised this spring.
The discount was created in 1985 to compensate UHF owners for their signals’ relative inferiority to VHF. Reexamining the discount now, they said in a joint statement Tuesday, "may lead to questions of whether this is an attempt to avoid a substantive court decision on an apparent weakness and inconsistency in the June 2 media ownership order."