Washington Watch


Subpoena for '60 Minutes’

CBS is fighting a subpoena against 60 MinutesMike Wallace by Richard M. Scrushy, the former CEO of health-care giant HealthSouth, who is now on trial for securities fraud.

Scrushy was the subject of an Oct. 12, 2003, 60 Minutes piece after allegations of wrongdoing surfaced. The wrongdoing allegedly included ill-gotten gains funneled into Rolls Royces, gems and original Picassos. Scrushy also wants show producer Robert Anderson to testify.

“We are seeking to quash this subpoena, as we do all intrusions into the newsgathering process,” says a 60 Minutes spokesman. Subpoenas are not uncommon for the long-running investigative show, but no one at CBS could recall if any of its news team has been forced to testify.

One of the show’s subjects was hauled in to testify, however. Tobacco-industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand was forced to give a deposition to Mississippi officials after the former Brown & Williamson researcher told 60 Minutes in 1996 the company added a cancer-causing ingredient to a tobacco product.

FCC: DBS Threat Slows Cable Hikes

Two researchers last week debunked consumer activists’ complaints that competition from DBS does nothing to slow cable-rate inflation. “Even for basic-cable services, consumers appear to turn to DBS as a substitute for cable” when facing large price increases, wrote FCC economists Andrew Wise and Kiran Duwadi.

They noted that cable-price hikes typically have outpaced inflation on a total-cost basis, but cautioned that, on a per-channel basis, the increases are outpacing inflation only slightly. Further, cable customers are prone to bolt to DBS when per-channel price hikes exceed 10%.

The study also found that DBS customers are less likely than cable customers to jump to a new service after a big price climb, most likely because long-term contracts, installation fees and equipment charges create high “switching costs.”

Activists Turn Ire On Cable TV

Some say the cable industry has gotten off easy since 2003, when opponents of media consolidation began focusing primarily on broadcasters. At the time, the FCC’s move to broadcast-ownership limits was the priority. Now those rules are mired in court fights, and at least one media-consolidation group is turning its sights on cable.

Free Press has just sent out an e-mail alert detailing its 2005 action agenda. Media ownership remains atop the list. But new to the priority list will be “open- access rules” that would make cable operators carry rival Internet providers over their broadband networks. Consumer advocates have been seeking such a mandate for years and would benefit greatly if Free Press marshaled its e-mail and grassroots lobbying capacity to the fight. “The goal is to offer affordable broadband Internet access to residents, businesses and local governments as a basic utility, just like water, gas and electricity,” Free Press says in its alert.

Currently, cable operators are not required to open their broadband service to third-party Internet access providers. A Supreme Court case this year could change that.

Stations Set To Pick Permanent DTV Slots

TV stations will begin choosing their permanent digital channels on Jan. 27, when the FCC launches the first round of a channel-selection process that will run through next year.

Stations participating in the first round currently have both their analog and digital assignments on channels 2-51, the range that will be left to TV after the business goes all-digital and stations return their old analog frequencies to the government. Any first-round station that doesn’t submit a request by Jan. 27 will be assigned one by the FCC. Other stations will pick channels in two additional rounds, next summer and winter 2006.