Copps Asks Nets for Indie Carve-Out

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Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps Wednesday called on the broadcast networks to set aside one-quarter of their schedules for shows from independent producers.

The commissioner argued that a few big media conglomerates now control three-quarters of prime time programming.

Copps, speaking via satellite to the National Association of Television Program Executives conference in Las Vegas, said consolidation has hurt the creative community by reducing the number of voices. "Big companies control production of programming, the distribution of programming and, increasingly a cause for concern, they control creativity," he said.

Copps has been a vocal critic of consolidation and what he argues has been its detrimental effect on localism and diversity of voices.

Networks have been increasing their share of prime time programming ever since the FCC threw out the financial interest and syndication rules, which prevented the nets from profiting from the sale in domestic syndication of shows on their air.

A year ago, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) met with networks and independent producers to push for such a voluntary set-aside. Among those calling for the 25% carve-out were the Writers Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild.

Copps didn't address the affect of the indecency crackdown on creativity in his remarks Wednesday, but when asked to comment on the FCC's direction, he said the burden is on both the commission and the TV industry to uphold the existing rules.

He did say that the FCC should provide some guidance, but that he prefers it respond to complaints on a case-by-case basis.

Copps said the burden is on stations and distributors to enforce the rules, "I don't believe in going after performers," he said.

Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, has introduced a new indecnecy enforcement bill that would boost the maximum fines against performers from $11,000 to $500,000 per incident.

Copps was slated to appear at NATPE in person, but remained in Washington on the advice of his doctor after recent back surgery.

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