BIG 3 AFFILIATES HIRE LOBBYIST TO FIGHT OWNERSHIP RULE CHANGES

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WASHINGTON-Representatives of the Big 3 TV affiliates have hired their own lobbyist here to fight broadcast ownership deregulation, an issue that has split the National Association of Broadcasters.

Under the arrangement, Gerry Waldron, a former aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), will be charged with organizing a grassroots campaign for the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance, the umbrella group for the Big 3 affiliate associations.

His essential mission: fighting lobbyists for the four networks, and several of the nation's biggest station groups, who want the government to ax rules that currently limit how many stations a broadcaster may own.

The broadcast system "is not broken, and in our estimation it does not need a fix," said Jim Waterbury, president of KWWL-TV in Waterloo, Iowa, and chairman of the NBC affiliates board.

In the interests of limiting network power, the affiliates alliance is arguing for the preservation of the existing national ownership cap, which bars broadcasters from owning TV stations with a combined reach of more than 25% of U.S. TV households.

The affiliates also want to retain regulations that limit network ownership of cable and bar broadcasters from buying cable systems in their markets.

Another group of broadcasters-including LIN Television, Clear Channel Communications and Pappas Broadcasting-have announced the new National Association of Multi-Channel Broadcasters. The group will lobby to permit broadcasters to buy more than one TV station in a market.

Sources also said Gannett Co. is spearheading an effort to form a group to lobby for the right to own TV stations and daily newspapers in the same market.

Industry division is forcing the NAB to sit out the TV ownership debate.

But, the NAB has said it would fight to eliminate all rules restricting radio ownership.

Mr. Halonen is Washington bureau chief for Electronic Media.

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