FCC Seeks Info from WHNT About 60 Minutes Blackout

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin directed the commission to send a letter of inquiry to WHNT-TV Huntsville, Ala., following complaints that its blackout of most of a 60 Minutes story might have been politically motivated rather than the technical glitch the station insisted it was. But he assured reporters that it was part of the standard complaint-response process.

The "glitch," according to the station, prevented some Alabama viewers from seeing all but five minutes or so of a Feb. 24 60 Minutes story about an alleged campaign by Karl Rove, former aide to President George W. Bush, against Don Siegelman, former Democrat governor of Alabama, who was eventually jailed for corruption.

In a briefing with reporters, Martin said the letter came in response to about 20 complaints, and it was similar to other letters sent concerning indecency complaints.

"I have instructed the staff to handle this like we do all of the complaints," he added. "I have told the staff to send a letter with the complaints attached."

Asked what the FCC would do if it concluded that the incident it was politically motivated, Martin said he would not speculate on what did or didn't happen.

"I think it is important for the broadcaster to come forward and explain what happened,” he added. “The commission in all kinds of contexts asks broadcasters to respond to complaints the public may have about the way they are running their stations. Anything can be brought up in the context of your license renewals, for example, but I don't think it is fair to speculate."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.