Affiliates to FCC: Nets abuse us

Washington: We've got a problem. That was the message from NASA (The Network Affiliated Stations Alliance) yesterday as the group, representing more than 600 network TV affiliates, said their networks have become so powerful that they have "violated the [Communications] Act, and contravened Commission rules and policies."

NASA asked the FCC to investigate whether the major networks are abusing their market power to strip programming decisions from local stations, manipulate station sales and seize control of digital capacity. "Core values of our nation's broadcasting system are at risk," said Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations and NASA chair. "We filed this petition because of the disturbing trend in recent years by the networks to assume greater dominance in the relationship with affiliates."

That dominance has included cutting back or eliminating compensation to stations for carrying network programming, cracking down on preemptions and pushing for rules changes that would allow networks to own more stations. In fact the petition comes not long after a court threw out the cable ownership cap and put the broadcast ownership cap in jeopardy.

NASA argues that the networks' power is impinging on licensees' ability to select programming for their communities and to make their own business decisions. Most irksome to the affiliates is the increasingly prevalent practices of requiring affiliates to air all of a network's programming and refusing to guarantee transfer of affiliation when a station is sold. NASA also urged the FCC to declare other networks practices as improper, including "coercing" stations to participate in the Voter News Service and denying stations programming exclusivity by "repurposing" content for cable or the Web.

Responding to the petition, NBC said in a statement: "It's a shame that this organization filed this request. We've made so much progress in terms of our relationships with our affiliates. It's as good as it's been for many years. We're confident the FCC won't find any merit to these claims."

"This is an ill-advised and extremely disappointing action," said CBS, "particularly given CBS' strong ongoing commitment to the network/affiliate relationship. CBS categorically denies taking part in any unlawful activity whatsoever and we are confident the FCC will find no merit in these baseless and irresponsible charges."
- Bill McConnell