Further Inquiry Requested On FCC Role in Liberty-DirecTV Merger

House Energy & Commerce subcommittee says FCC held up merger

The House Energy & Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee has recommended further investigation into allegations that the FCC held up the merger of Liberty Media and DirecTV until the White House got "certain local television programming" as part of its satellite service.

That was one of the allegations outlined in a long-awaited report on FCC process and practices.

The allegation was that in September 2007, a White House official contacted FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's office to complain that DirecTV was not carrying certain local TV stations, and that Media Bureau staffers were subsequently directed to advise DirecTV that the commission would not act on the merger until the issue was resolved.

When the issue was resolved within days, the merger consideration process continued, says the allegation.

The report maintains that FCC staffers confirmed the "outlines" of the allegations, but could not confirm who at the White house had called, or whether Chairman Kevin Martin knew anything about it.

The report found the sources credible, but had no records to substantiate the allegation. Still, it labeled the charge serious and recommended the Energy & Commerce Committee open and investigation into the matter, including letters to Martin, Liberty and DirecTV with requests for information.

The FCC had no response at press time, though a spokeswoman said it might have been a mischaracterization of an initiative that is underway with the White House and media companies.

"If you read the allegation againsty the chairman," said a DirecTV spokesman, "it is obvious that DirecTV has done absolutely nothing wrong. However, if the committee elected to investigate this matter further, we weill be happy to cooperate," said the spokesman, who would not directly address the substance of the allegation.