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Viacom Renews Election-Coverage Pledge

Viacom Inc. Wednesday renewed its pledge to air five minutes of political coverage every night on its stations' evening-news programs and said there was no need or justification for Washington to step in.

The pledge came in the face of criticism that TV stations aren't offering enough coverage of this year's elections, and in direct response to a letter  from FCC Chairman Michael Powell and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain calling for more coverage. 
"You will remember we made the same commitment during the 2000 election season, and we fulfilled that promise with numerous hours of substantive political coverage," wrote Viacom co-president Les Moonves. "Many of our stations also sponsored and aired live debates between candidates."

Moonves urged McCain to drop his push to make stations offer free advertising time to federal candidates. "We do not and have not needed any laws or regulations to determine the amount of time or resources our stations should devote to this vital subject," he wrote. "That is simply part of our responsibility as a broadcaster, and we take that responsibility seriously."

Powell and McCain asked broadcasters to detail their political coverage plans June 15. A week later, ABC replied that Washington should judge the network's coverage of political issues in news and public affairs by the fact that its 10 owned and operated stations are ranked either one or two in the local news ratings.

Last week the National Association of Broadcasters told them the best way for the FCC and Congress to boost broadcast public affairs programming and election coverage is to make cable systems have to carry all of a broadcaster's digital signal, including the planned public affairs programming on extra digital channels.