Open Mike

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Paxson Wants a Recount

Editor: I read with great interest the lead story in the June 14 issue of BROADCASTING & CABLE reporting on the alleged capacity crunch facing cable operators "particularly in markets with a large number of broadcast stations" ["85 Billion Dollars Later: Still No Space," page 1]. The story then went on to note that the Time Warner Cable system in Manhattan did not have room for four HD channels, thereby frustrating its subscribers.

My only question is whether B&C
bothered to check the Time Warner channel lineup in Manhattan before preparing the story. I have taken a look at that channel lineup. There are 700 or so channels related to video programming. This does not, of course, include the channel capacity devoted to telephony or the high-speed delivery of the Internet. The Time Warner lineup shows 10 HBO channels, 10 Showtime channels, six Cinemax channels, five Starz channels, 50 channels for pay and adult movies, over 50 sports channels, etc.

On the other hand, there are only 14 commercial and noncommercial broadcast stations carried on the same Time Warner system. Time Warner's carriage of the local television stations in New York doesn't even make a small dent in their cable channel capacity. Everyone who has looked at the issue knows that.

Lowell Paxson, chairman & CEO, Paxson Communications, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Covering Campaigns

Editor: In your June 22 stories on the BROADCASTING & CABLE Web site and the TV Fax
titled "ABC Details Campaign Coverage," Disney President Bob Iger claims that ABC's 10 owned-and-operated stations are "making the right decisions regarding the community relevance of their local newscasts" evidenced by the fact that they are "ranked either one or two in the local news ratings."

Ratings are not the judge of whether programming serves the public interest or contains sufficient political coverage. Broadcast television is a business, and as such it has a duty to its shareholders to earn money. But broadcasters have an added obligation—by virtue of receiving free licenses worth millions of dollars to operate on the publicly owned airwaves—to serve "the public interest, convenience and necessity."

The Alliance for Better Campaigns, as part of the Public Interest, Public Airwaves Coalition, is urging the Federal Communications Commission to adopt a proposal that would outline meaningful public-interest obligations for local civic- and electoral-affairs coverage as part of the transition to digital TV. In the meantime, for this year's upcoming elections, the Alliance is calling on broadcast-station groups to make voluntary commitments to have their local stations air at least two hours per week of local candidate- or issue-focused discourse in the weeks before Election Day. A study by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in 2000 found that stations whose corporate owners had made a public pledge to electoral programming aired nearly three times as much campaign coverage as those that did not make any commitment.

I strongly urge ABC and all other station groups to adopt policies supporting increased political coverage so that local broadcasters can provide their viewers with campaign information that will help them be informed, engaged voters.

Meredith McGehee, president & executive director, Alliance for Better Campaigns, Washington

(Received via e-mail)