Do Networks Care? Congressmen Say No


House lawmakers leading the effort to retain the 35% cap on TV household reach claim to have found a smoking gun that proves network headquarters, not local managers, call the programming shots for their stations. But Fox, at whom the gun is pointed, says the legislators are firing blanks.

Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) last Wednesday sent FCC Chairman Michael Powell a copy of a letter from Cheryl McDonald, general manager of Fox O&O WDAF-TV Kansas City, to Tim Maupin, director of the Kansas City chapter of the Parents Television Council, telling the community activist that his complaint about the June 10 Keen Eddie
episode had been forwarded to the Fox home office. "The network, not WDAF TV4, decides what shows go on the air for the Fox Owned and Operated Television Stations," McDonald wrote.

"The letter makes a mockery of 'localism' " and "confirms that allowing networks to acquire stations in new markets … will further diminish the number of televisions stations that have the ability to broadcast programs consistent with the values and tastes of the communities they serve," the lawmakers told Powell.

Dingell and Burr, sponsors of legislation rolling back the FCC's decision to lift the cap to 45%, asked Powell to include McDonald's letter in the FCC's broadcast ownership record and to give it "significant weight" when the FCC takes up petitions to reconsider its ownership changes.

Fox parent News Corp. countered that the network does not dominate O&O programming. "Our GM's letter … doesn't fully explain that the network only programs two hours per weeknight on Fox O&Os," said spokesman Andrew Butcher.