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Ratings-Oversight Bill Hits House

A second bill has been introduced, this one in the House of Representatives, that mandates that TV-ratings services be accredited by the Media Rating Council, an industry-oversight body.

The latest bill, the Television Viewer Consumer Protection Act of 2005, was introduced Thursday by Reps. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

“The interests of viewers of television programming will be best served by an industry-oversight system that guarantees accurate ratings of television shows,” the bill said, referring to the MRC.

The bill also called for any dispute between a TV-ratings service and the MRC to be resolved by binding arbitration by a panel appointed from a list of arbitrators submitted by the American Arbitration Association.

Thursday’s bill is very similar to the one introduced in the Senate earlier this month by Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) -- a bill that has the backing of both News Corp. and Tribune Broadcasting.

The proposed legislation reflects the latest battle in an ongoing war between broadcasters, coalition of African-American and Hispanic groups Don’t Count Us Out and Nielsen Media Research. The broadcasters are opposed to Nielsen’s rollout of “Local People Meters.”

Nielsen is opposed to any legislation, including Thursday’s bill, with its Republican sponsors.

“It’s surprising that deregulators would opt for government regulation,” Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said.

Cynthia Rotunno, executive director of Don’t Count Us Out, said her group supports Thursday’s bill.

“Much like its companion bill in the Senate, the Television Viewer Consumer Protection Act is simple,” Rotunno said in a prepared statement. “It requires any TV-ratings provider to meet minimum standards of accuracy as defined by the MRC accreditation process.”

On Thursday, Gannett Co. Inc. voiced its supporting for the both the TV Viewer Protection Act and Burns’ bill.

“It’s important that Nielsen or any ratings service get it right,” said David Fleming, senior legal counsel for Gannett’s broadcast division.

Also Thursday, Tribune officials went so far as blame Nielsen for some of the company’s woes.