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Washington Watch

DBS Gets FCC Nod for Religious Channels

DBS operators can keep counting religious channels toward their obligation to carry public-interest channels, the FCC says. Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree dismissed a complaint against DirecTV brought by the Secular Coalition for America.

The group had argued that setting aside space for religious programmers like the Catholic network EWTN violates the constitutional ban on government endorsement of religion.

DBS operators were required in 1998 to set aside 4% of their channel capacity for public-interest programming.

Ferree insists that permitting the channels to count toward the public-interest quota does not constitute a government endorsement of religious programming or any particular faith.

Media General Faces TV/Paper Fight

Media activists are gearing up to fight Media General’s request for an FCC waiver that will let it keep both WMBB-TV and the Jackson County Floridian in Panama City, Fla.

Without a waiver to the FCC’s ban on local TV/newspaper crossownership, Richmond, Va.-based Media General will have to divest itself of one of the properties if it wants to renew WMBB’s license.

The station’s current permit expires Feb. 1 and Media Access Project (MAP) President Andrew Schwartzman says his group filed a petition to deny the waiver.

And that isn’t all. MAP has already asked the FCC to nix the company’s combo in Myrtle Beach, Fla., where it owns WBTW(TV) and the Florence, S.C., Morning News.

A loophole in FCC rules has allowed Media General to operate the combos despite the ban on local crossownership.

Because acquisitions of newspapers don’t need FCC approval, a TV owner may buy a paper in one of its markets and operate it until the local station’s license is up for renewal.

Media General also must obtain waivers next year for combos in Columbus, Ga., and Johnson City, Tenn.

Campaign Begins To Raise $1 Billion For Public Radio/ TV

Public TV and radio groups have kicked off an initiative to raise new revenue from both public and private sources, perhaps as much as $1 billion or more. The fundraising project will be led by co-chairs Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape, and Reed Hundt, former FCC chairman. “We need to know the size and scope of the task,” Hundt says, and he wants answers “in a number of weeks, not years.”

The money would be used to fund digital-age programming, distance learning and delivery to mobile and computer devices. Barksdale and Hundt will head a panel of public broadcasting executives and scholars, and plan to hold more meetings this month and next to solicit public comment on what public broadcasting’s mission should be in the digital age.

Now that public TV stations have largely completed their digital build outs, Corporation for Public Broadcasting President Kathleen Cox says they are ready to deliver digital services in a big way. That is, if they find enough money to develop content.

One money-making idea on the table, floated by PBS President Pat Mitchell: creation of a trust fund built from some proceeds of the government’s auction of public stations’ reclaimed analog channels.

Networks Irked at Ban on Kids’ Web Addresses

Major TV networks are balking at FCC limits that kick in Feb. 1 restricting the display of Web site addresses during children’s programming. The Big Four broadcast networks, Turner Broadcasting, Time Warner, Discovery and Nick, want the FCC to delay the ban until 2006.

The FCC rule will permit Web site addresses in kiddie commerce to kids 12 and under only if the site is not primarily intended for commercial purposes and the site contains a “substantial amount” of noncommercial content. Complainants say they need time to develop a way to monitor all e-mail addresses in kids’ spots.