Labeling the National Association of Broadcasters a weapon in the "jihad" of
large affiliate groups against the networks and saying it had maligned ABC-owned
station employees, The Walt Disney Co./ABC Tuesday officially pulled its
stations and network from the association.
In a letter to NAB president Eddie Fritts, whom he called one of the victims
in this fight, Disney's top Washington executive, Preston Padden, said the move
was made "with genuine sorrow."
But he added that the network had "abandoned" hope that the NAB could
"represent the best interest of ALL broadcasters [emphasis theirs]," saying that
ABC had "endured (and helped to pay for)" two years of a "nonstop stream of
network-bashing letters, lobbying and legal filings" by its own association.
Padden cited the NAB's assertion that network-owned stations "lagged behind"
affiliates in local public service as one example of the trade group's "patently
With all of the networks now gone from the NAB, Padden said he is trying to
create an alliance with the other networks that will show that their commitment
to local broadcasting is second to none.
"We will call it America's Greatest Local Broadcasters," he told TV
Fax. "We will bring the 100 greatest broadcasters to the steps of the
The central issue in this dispute is the division between the "Big Four"
networks and their stations over whether or not to raise the 35% ownership cap
on a group owner's national audience reach. (NBC and Fox quit the NAB in 2000
and CBS in 2001 over the cap issue.)
The NAB has been lobbying against raising the cap, with stations arguing that
allowing the networks to own more stations would give them undue leverage in
The networks have countered that they need to bulk up to survive, pointing
out that some of the non-network groups contain many more stations, simply not
in as large markets.
Pointing out that ABC owns stations in "a mere 10 markets," Padden said, "The
[Federal Communications Commission's] national reach 'cap' does not address the
tremendous concentration and growth in the size of group affiliate owners that
can amass huge station groups (one affiliate company now owns 63 stations) and
still stay under the 'cap.'"
The issue came to a boil for ABC last week, when the NAB TV board voted to
endorse congressional attempts to restore the 35% cap, which the FCC raised to
45% in a controversial June 2 vote.
Those congressional efforts could include a laundry list of deregulation
rollbacks that could effectively gut the FCC's recent rule changes, although the
NAB has said that it will only support the 35% rollback.
At the NAB TV-board meeting, Padden said, "We argued that it was a misuse of
the public-policy process in Washington for big, vertically integrated affiliate
groups, including those owned by monopoly newspapers, to use the association's
lobbying to advance their own private interests. We argued that the credibility
and effectiveness of the NAB was being damaged, damage that could come back to
haunt ALL broadcasters on critical issues, including [digital TV]."
An NAB representative was not available for comment, but the association has
always contended that its clout in Washington, D.C., stemmed not from the big
networks, but from its large membership of local radio- and TV-station
operators, which come from virtually every congressional district in the
ABC's exit will mean a loss of about $500,000 in annual dues against a budget
in the mid-eight-figures.