Feingold targets Clear Channel, radio allegations

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The legislative backlash against media consolidation continued Thursday as
Sen. Russ Feingold introduced legislation intended to crack down on a string of
alleged abuses by the radio industry and in particular Clear Channel
Communications Inc., the country's largest operator.

'I'm committed to working for many, many years,' said the Wisconsin Democrat
briefing reporters on his bill June 27.

Feingold predicted a hearing and committee vote could be completed this
year.

Feingold's bill would:

  • Strip conglomerates owning both radio stations and
    concert promoters of their broadcast licenses if they discriminate against
    unaffiliated musicians, promoters and stations.
  • Trigger an Federal Communications Commission hearing
    to prove there is no discrimination when a radio merger gives the buyer a 60
    percent national audience reach.
  • Bar the FCC from raising limits on local radio
    ownership.
  • Count radio local marketing and time brokerage
    agreements toward local ownership caps and outlaw LMA partnerships that bring
    an operator above 35 percent local market audience or ad revenue share .
  • Forbid 'payola' that some say requires record
    companies to pay a small group of promoters in order to obtain radio airtime.
  • Require the FCC to ensure that Arbitron ratings are not
    manipulated.

The legislation comes in the wake of many accusations against Clear Channel
but Feingold also belongs to a growing chorus complaining that audiences have
lost diverse viewpoints needed in a democratic society since the government
greatly eased many media-ownership restrictions in 1996.

In a similar vein, Sens. Ernest Hollings, Herb Kohl and Mike DeWine in May
called on the FCC to investigate the effect of consolidation on TV
programming.

'This bill is not simply about Clear Channel,' Feingold said.

Apparently sensing that it was mostly
about his company,
Clear Channel president Mark Mays denied that the biggest companies
have too much power.

'Radio is significantly less concentrated than most other information and
entertainment industries,' he said.

National Association of Broadcasters President Eddie Fritts agreed. 'We
strongly dispute claims that radio has grown more homogenous.'

Expressing a little backlash of its own against
consolidation of its own Wall Street Thursday hammered several radio stocks
including Clear Channel, which dropped $4.55 to $31.20.

Turmoil surrounding the trading and revelations about WorldCom Inc.'s cooked
ledgers prompted the company to deny that its books were plagued by accounting
irregularities.

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