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NASA narrows focus

Network affiliates last week asked the FCC to narrow its investigation of alleged misdeeds against TV stations by the Big Four nets.

Rather than examining the long list of complaints, then deciding whether new rules are needed to govern affiliate/network relations, the agency should focus on three areas where the nets are regularly violating the law, said the Network-Affiliated Stations Alliance.

"We're hoping to simplify things," said NASA attorney Jonathan Blake. "It looked as it the examination of our full request would take a long time, and we think the way to deal with that problem is to ask the FCC to zero in on these three issues."

Specifically, the NASA's petition, filed in March, charges that the nets violated restrictions in the following areas:

  • Right to refuse. For example, NBC attempted to forbid affiliates to preempt the first game of the American League divisional baseball series for coverage of the first 2000 presidential debate.
  • Time optioning. Fox has demanded control of stations' multiple digital signals without offering any specific programming.
  • Licensee control. NBC, ABC and Fox have tried to prevent affiliation transfers resulting from station sales.

In March, NASA asked the FCC to ban other "improper" practices that don't violate any specific rules.

Blake said some board members of NASA, which represents more than 600 stations affiliated with ABC, CBS and NBC, worried that the group had asked the FCC to take on too much at once and that the request for new restrictions should be "held in abeyance."

Network lobbyists derided NASA's revision Friday. "They're obviously retreating and trying to advance again," said one network source.

In May NASA clarified that it did not want the FCC to fine the networks, only to stop them from hurting affiliates.