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Reps. Rap Ratings-Reg Push

Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have sent their colleages a letter advising the government not to try to regulate the TV-ratings business, saying it would be "an unwarranted government intrusion that could possibly damage the accuracy of the ratings system."

They were echoing sentiments expressed by Susan Whiting to clients at a conference this week, when the Nielsen President asked for help in combating any government efforts to regulate it.

"Should it be the Federal Government's responsibility to inform Americans that American Idol was last week's number-one show in its timeslot?," they asked, "We think not."

The push for regulation, spearheaded by the Don't Count Us Out Coalition, stems in part from Nielsen's roll-out of Local People Meters, which the coalition, with the backing of Fox, argues undercount minorities. Nielsen says they are simply better recording the flight of viewers elsewhere, though it does concede some sampling issues which it says it is working to fix.

"The Federal Trade Commission already has enough work to do without Congress telling it to intervene to fix a system that may need a few tweaks but certainly isn't broken", Jackson and Burton wrote.

Former broadcaster Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who held a hearing on the meters last year, has written the FTC for its opinion on whether it has the authority to regulate Nielsen. He has yet to get an answer, with FTC having asked for, and gotten, more time to craft its response.

Whiting welcomed the input: "We are enormously pleased that Congressman Burton and Congressman Jackson have taken the time to seriously consider the effect that federal regulation might have on the ratings industry. In a time of rapid innovation and constant change within the television industry, it is essential that we continue to develop our methods and technologies with parallel speed and flexibility to remain responsive to the needs of our clients and the public. Congressmen Burton and Jackson understand the value of a free and open market, and we greatly appreciate their thoughtful attention."Coalition campaign manager Josh Lahey was less sanguine: "We are glad that Congressman Burton and Congressman Jackson are taking an active interest in this issue," he said "We agree that the U.S. government should not determine the ratings for particular shows nor have we called for a Department of Television Advertising.

We do believe that a fair and accurate ratings system is a vital public interest and, as Congress has asserted since the Harris Commission of the 1960's, there is a role for the federal government in assuring the integrity of that system."