US Networks Fight to Uphold Media Rules Change

04 September 2003

Wrong-footed by the storm of political opposition to the raising of the cap on US media ownership from 25% of reach to 35% [WAMN: 28-Jul-03], the big four TV networks have waddled out of wisenheimer mode to make their case to lawmakers.

A campaign timed to coincide with this week’s return of Congress to the daily grind broke in DC parish magazines, The Hill and Roll Call. ‘America Says: Don't Get Between Me And My TV,’ is the emotive slogan adopted by the four networks – which presumably tested better than ‘Don’t Mess With Our Right to Make a Bigger Buck’.

New data provided by a top Republican pollster purports to show that voters don’t care who owns their local television station and also don't want the government regulating who can. This message will be rammed down politico’s throats by lobbyists acting for Viacom’s CBS, General Electric’s NBC and NewsCorp’s Fox. The initiative is also supported by Walt Disney’s ABC, although it is uncertain whether its sustenance is financial or moral.

The data was garnered by Dr Frank I Luntz, whose website modestly styles him as “one of the most honored political and communication professionals in America today”. His survey suggests that 87% of those polled think they have an adequate number of choices for receiving news. It also shows that only 11% believe network ownership of their local station is a bad thing; while 68% think the market should decide whether that should happen or not.

“I have never seen a situation where politicians have a greater disconnect from the people they represent,” opines Dr Luntz - an opinion with which it is difficult to disagree as neither the phrasing of the questions nor details of the Doc’s methodology were released alongside his findings.

With or without the Luntz’ data, the networks have an uphill struggle ahead, not least because Congressional opposition to relaxing the rules is exceptionally broad and bipartisan. And many believe their minds are made up.

But NBC's Washington lobbyist Bob Okun remains bullish. “I think [Congress] members, without exception, are willing to hear both sides of the issue and make a decision,” he says. “It's not really too late.”

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff