The National Association of Broadcasters has reversed itself and now will
oppose all legislation aimed at restoring the 35% cap on TV-household reach,
according to Capitol Hill sources.
The decision is a stark reversal for the broadcasting industry's main trade
group, which convinced leading lawmakers in both houses of Congress to sponsor
rollback bills prior to the Federal Communications Commission’s June 2 decisions
to lift the cap to 45%.
The NAB refused comment Wednesday.
"They're going to do a 180," said a staffer for the House Energy and Commerce
The issue divided the broadcast industry. The four major networks quit the
NAB over its continued support of the 35% rule and threatened to start their
own trade organization. The NAB's move may be, in part, a
way to get the networks back in the fold.
A majority of the NAB board became concerned that the rollback legislation
had become laden with unwanted measures, such as one to reinstate the ban on
local broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership, and that the legislation would hurt
the interests of the NAB's biggest members more than it would help.
Growing increasingly nervous that objectionable additions can't be kept out
of legislation when it reaches the House and Senate floors, the NAB Tuesday
voted to oppose any form of rollback legislation -- even a version that would only
address the TV-ownership cap -- and it has begun notifying lawmakers of its change of
The move disappointed Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the Commerce
Committee's top Democrat and a sponsor of rollback legislation pending in the
Dingell vowed to continue his fight without the NAB, one of Capitol Hill's
strongest grassroots lobbies.
"The NAB's decision to reverse itself on the issue of the national television-ownership cap is an unfortunate retreat from its proud history of support for
localism, diversity and competition in the broadcast marketplace," Dingell
said. "My efforts, and those of my colleagues, to repeal the FCC's ill-advised
decision to raise the ownership cap to 45% will not be deterred. And I remain
confident that many of the NAB's own members will continue to support us."
The NAB's stance on rollback legislation has divided the trade group. Members
such as Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., Cox Broadcasting Inc. and Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. have made reinstating the cap their
Others, such as Tribune Broadcasting Inc., Belo Corp. and Media General Inc., have put defending the newly
won permission to form local TV/newspaper combos as their main goal.