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Viacom Pulls NAB Membership

A fight over broadcast deregulation prompted Viacom Inc. to yank its
membership from the National Association of Broadcasters Wednesday -- a bold
step to protest the NAB's steadfast support for government-imposed restrictions
on the size of the major broadcast networks.

Viacom not only withdrew its CBS network and TV stations, but also its
Infinity Broadcasting Corp. radio group.

Viacom and the NAB are at odds over the association's support of a Federal
Communications Commission rule that limits a TV-station owner to 35 percent of
TV households nationally. The NAB's support for the cap is backed by hundreds of
network affiliates, which have the votes to defeat the networks.

Viacom owns stations that reach 41 percent of households. It has until May 4
to identify the stations it will sell to reach 35 percent. The company has asked
the FCC and a federal court to eliminate the rule, but the NAB's board
informally reaffirmed support for the 35 percent cap during a conference call
Wednesday.

'It has now become clear that we cannot remain with an organization that is
actively working against those objectives,' CBS said, adding that the NAB also
supports other FCC broadcast regulations over Viacom's objections.

NBC and Fox also quit the NAB for the same reason. ABC has not announced a
decision about its future role at the association.

Viacom pulled out just two weeks before the NAB's annual convention in Las
Vegas.

CBS' departure will cost the group about $400,000 in TV dues, although it was
not clear how much the organization would lose from the pullout of about 180
Infinity radio stations. The financial hit won't be severe because the NAB has a
$60 million annual budget.

'It's regrettable when any member leaves the association,' NAB spokesman
Dennis Wharton said.

Preston Padden, executive vice president of government relations for The Walt
Disney Co., owner of the ABC network, said he's troubled that the NAB supports
radio deregulation and repeal of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban,
but not even relaxation of the 35 percent cap.

'The government can't defer to the preferences of some segment of an industry
no matter how loud they may be,' Padden said. 'I don't believe that the current
position of the NAB as driven by the affiliates is either principled or
sustainable.'