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Fin-Syn, Redux

Editor: Anyone who has worked with Bob Corn-Revere over the years knows of his tenacious defense of the First Amendment. However, in his Counterpoint commentary (B&C, 4/28, p.12), Bob has missed the important, pro-First Amendment benefits of the 25% Independent Producer Rule proposed by the Coalition for Program Diversity.

First of all, the 25% Independent Producer Rule is content-neutral. It does not propose any programming format but merely proposes that five hours a week of the four major networks' prime time schedules be set aside for programming produced by true independent producers, not network employees or network "partners."

If adopted by the FCC on June 2, the 25% Independent Producer Rule would simply mean that approximately 20 hours would have a different creative source than the four networks' television programming chiefs, who today control 100% of everything aired on network prime time television.

When only four people program every minute of the networks' 80-plus-hour weekly prime time schedule, "blandness," "sameness," risk-free programming is the inevitable result. Things only get worse as networks fixate on programming that can be simultaneously "rerun" (or repurposed) on the networks' co-owned multiple broadcast and cable platforms.

That's why Barry Diller, once a leading opponent of the Fin-Syn Rule, has publicly called for a re-imposition of a content-neutral rule that would promote prime time program diversity by allowing true independent producers to compete to have their creative programming concepts aired on the networks' free spectrum. Grant Tinker, CEO of NBC during its most profitable and critically successful years, has also decried the loss of independent voices over the last decade and publicly supported the 25% set-aside rule.

Since 1992, the dramatic and documented shrinkage of sources of diverse programming provides the FCC the legal basis under the Schurz Court to adopt the sustainable, First Amendment-friendly 25% Independent Producer Rule. Despite all the network hype, the record is clear: Since 1992, independent-producer programming dropped from 66.4% to 23.9% of the prime time schedule; in 1992, 22 independent producers developed and owned 46.5 hours of the networks' prime time schedule yet, last year, only six independent producers owned 17 hours of programming.

The debate about the 25% Independent Producer Rule is not about dollars or content; it is about the FCC's willingness to promote diversity of programming sources based on the irrefutable record of anticompetitive network dominance of the narrow but vitally important prime time television-programming marketplace. For 43 million U.S. consumers who don't have access to diverse programming on pay services, the commission's vote on June 2 really matters.

Mickey Gardner and Ken Ziffren, Counsel for Coalition for Program Diversity