Hill: Beware lingering finance-reform issues

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A group of lawmakers largely supportive of the industry warned broadcasters
Monday not to drop their guard on campaign-finance reform.

Although broadcasters blocked a provision that would have required stations
to give federal candidates deep discounts on campaign ads, a renewed fight is
brewing on mandated free airtime for those seeking office. "Beware of that one,
it's next," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Rep. Gene Green, a Texas Democrat, said broadcasters could better
fend off future threats by making sure they provide substantial coverage of
political campaigns.

If lawmakers' reaction to ABC's flap over David Letterman and Nightline
is any indication, though, new campaign-reform burdens remain in the realm
of possibility.

Although members of Congress don't want to take sides in the news-versus-entertainment debate, the hands-off attitude won't survive if many
viewers complain that the industry is shrugging off its duty to offer public-affairs
programming.

"Were going to react if there is a public outcry," Walden said at the National Association of Broadcasters' NAB
2002. "There becomes a concern with members of Congress -- is information
getting to the electorate?" added Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.).

Broadcasters worried that preserving news programs will hurt profits need to
find creative new ways to present public-affairs programming, Green said. "You need to offer a product that can compete and not abandon
the field."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a critic of the recently passed reform law,
called on broadcasters to repay the deference given to the industry by helping
to "reform the reform." The bill puts new restrictions on soft money and
negative advertising that Issa and others said infringe on many groups' First
Amendment rights.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) also used NAB 2002 in Las Vegas as a forum to
blast EchoStar Communications Corp.'s plan to buy DirecTV Inc. "That obviously
is monopolistic in nature and customers will end up suffering because of it," he
said. "My committee is extremely concerned about this merger."

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