CONGRESS WEIGHS IN ON FCC RULES FOR STATION OWNERSHIP: SHARPTON VOWS HE WILL CONTEST VIACOM, CBS' PLANNED MERGER

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Some congressmen last week pushed to quickly ease Federal Communications Commission rules that would force Viacom to sell off some stations it wants to acquire from CBS Corp., as the Rev. Al Sharpton said he will fight the deal.

Echoing some concerns raised earlier by ad agency media executives, the Rev. Sharpton, president-CEO of the National Action Network, said minority broadcasters could be hurt by a Viacom/CBS combination. He said the deal contains no assurances that it would benefit the minority community.

"They would have a disproportionate influence in the marketplace," said the Rev. Sharpton. He said he wants Viacom to take steps to have minorities on its board and establish a fair and equitable advertising policy. "They need to say how they are going to counter any negative impact [the merger] will have on minorities."

Viacom had no comment.

4A'S CONSIDERING STANCE

The American Association of Advertising Agencies hasn't formally taken a position. But its media policy committee meets this week to talk about various media concentration issues, including the effect of the FCC's Aug. 5 decision allowing a single media company to own two TV stations in larger markets.

Several Four A's committee members said they have trouble accepting Viacom having duopolies in six top markets.

Current FCC rules permit a single media company to own broadcast stations reaching 35% of the nation's audience. Viacom's deal would give it about 41%, forcing the sale of stations.

If committee members weren't concerned enough about duopolies before, they got some new reasons last week as several congressmen and TV networks called for immediate easing of the caps that could limit the number of duopolies.

"Broadcasting ownership regulations were created when the three major networks solely monopolized the airwaves. This, as we are aware, is no longer so," said House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Bliley (R., Va.) at a hearing by the committee's Telecommunications subcommittee.

At the same subcommittee hearing, called to discuss proposals to eliminate cross-ownership curbs that bar newspapers from buying broadcast stations in their market, three TV networks offered an economic justification for dropping all national caps.

'A BYGONE ERA'

"The national multiple ownership rule is a prime example of a regulation that is no longer justified," said Michael Katz, a senior consultant for Charles River Associates, whose study was commissioned by ABC, CBS and Fox.

Peter Chernin, president-CEO of Fox parent News Corp., said the cap was "rooted in a bygone era of media scarcity."

Several congressmen agreed, and threatened to move to end the cap if the FCC didn't act on its own.

Others, however, questioned the move.

Some station owners warned that dropping the cap could give large media owners veto power over new networks and a few media executives the power to decide what programming enters syndication.

'COMMUNICATIONS CANNIBALISM'

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) called the FCC's duopoly decision one of its worst, charging it would lead to "communications cannibalism" done without any effort to see if the change benefited the local market or minority ownership.

In the Senate, John McCain (R., Ariz.), a GOP presidential candidate and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman, offered a bill to raise the cap to at least 50% and overturn the FCC's current bar on newspaper cross-ownership. An aide said the bill was unrelated to the Viacom deal and noted that the senator had introduced

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