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Powell Makes Colleagues Wait On DTV Plan

Will FCC Chairman Michael Powell
finally let his fellow commissioners in on his long-awaited plan to speed the
transition to all-digital TV? Agency protocol requires him to present the plan
to them by Thursday, Jan. 20, so they can prepare for a vote in time at the
next open meeting, Feb. 10. At press time, however, colleagues were clueless
about his intentions.

“We could present it in a matter of days,” says
Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree, adding that the
document awaits Powell's OK. An FCC spokesman would not comment, and a Powell
aide didn't return calls.

The commissioners, and the rest of the TV industry for that matter,
want to know whether they will be asked to vote solely on a plan to accelerate
the all-digital deadline to 2009 or whether they also be asked to approve other
controversial measures, such as forcing cable operators to carry each of the
six or so channels that local TV stations will be able to squeeze into their
digital signals.

Ferree says he could include a carriage recommendation in the plan or
offer one separately later. The DTV plan, in the works for a year, would
require broadcasters to go all-digital and return their old analog channels to
the government by 2009, years sooner than they would otherwise be required. The
plan works by measuring very liberally how many American receive digital
signals from their local stations.

Phone Calls Land Stations in Trouble

Two local TV news operations are in hot water with the FCC for airing
telephone calls after reporters failed to notify individuals they were being
taped. KNOE Monroe, La., and
WEWS Cleveland face fines of $10,000 and
$6,000, respectively.

KNOE was sanctioned for a report about corruption among members of the
Ouachita Parish Police Jury, the equivalent of a county council. Reporter
Ken Booth called the home of Juror
Mack Calhoun and recorded only his voice-mail
message. Booth called again on Sept. 25, and Calhoun hung up after the reporter
identified himself. KNOE aired Calhoun's voice-mail message and the sound of
his hanging up.

WEWS was hit for a story about a claim dispute at
MedMutual insurance company. The station aired
a company spokesman's refusal to conduct an on-camera interview.

Kathleen Kirby, outside counsel to
the Radio-Television News Directors
Association
, says the ban is one more example of broadcasters'
second-class status relative to print reporters.

Watchdogs Prowl For PR Violations

Following revelations that the Bush
administration
paid conservative commentator and columnist
Armstrong Williams to tout the president's
“No Child Left Behind” program, a citizens' watchdog group is trying make
22 federal agencies disclose whether they used public-relations firms to set up
similar contracts.

“How extensively has the administration used propaganda to shore up
its controversial policies?” asked Melanie
Sloan
, executive director of Citizens for
Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
, a non-profit group
dedicated to holding public officials to high standards of behavior. “Did it
pay any commentators to speak out in support of the Patriot Act? Is it paying
anyone now to convince the public that Social Security is in crisis?”

FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in
response to calls for a review, has asked the agency's Enforcement Bureau to
investigate whether the ban on payola was violated during the Williams
episode.

Adelstein Aide To House Commerce

Johanna Mikes Shelton, media advisor
to FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, is
becoming Democratic counsel to the House Commerce
Committee
. She replaces Gregg
Rothschild
, who has signed on as a lobbyist for
Verizon.

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