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Press Release

November 8, 2007

PTC Testifies That Big Media Companies Consistently Disregard the Public Trust

Current Ownership Rules Already Discourage Diversity on Cable TV and Decency Standards on Broadcast TV


WASHINGTON, DC (November 8, 2007) – The Parents Television Council™ President Tim Winter testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation today, saying that there is universal support for not allowing big media companies to own more media outlets because they consistently disregard and violate the public trust.  Excerpts from Mr. Winter’s testimony follow:


“Mr. Chairman, a few years ago the PTC stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a remarkably diverse group of public policy advocates to decry the loosening of media ownership rules: the National Organization for Women and Concerned Women for America, the Salvation Army and Common Cause, Consumers Union, the National Rifle Association, MoveOn.org and others.  As PTC Founder Brent Bozell noted, ‘When all of us are united on an issue, then one of two things has happened.  Either the earth has spun off its axis and we have all lost our minds, or there is universal support for a concept.’  I believe the FCC’s recent localism hearings across the country have once again demonstrated universal support for a concept: big media companies have not conducted themselves in a manner which merits them owning even more media outlets.  The only voices in favor of allowing big media companies to grow even bigger has come from within those very companies.


“With very few exceptions, network-owned television stations do not consider community decency standards, even though the terms of their broadcast licenses demand it.


“During the summer of 2003, the Fox Broadcasting Network aired an episode of a crime show called Keen Eddie.  Criminals trying to sell horse semen on the black market hired a prostitute to perform a particular act on the horse in order to extract the semen.  Although the act itself was not displayed, the dialog was so coarse that I am uncomfortable repeating it here. A member of the PTC in Kansas City wrote a letter to the Fox owned-and-operated station in his market, expressing his concern.  I wish to read aloud the response he received from the station’s General Manager:


‘We forwarded your letter to the FOX Network. The Network, not WDAF TV4, decides what shows go on the air for the FOX Owned and Operated Television Stations.’


“When station general managers in cities and towns across the country take their orders directly from the network headquarters in New York or Hollywood, it comes as no surprise that they would toe the company line with programming.  How does this serve the public interest?


“We have heard privately – and repeatedly – from independent local broadcasters around the country who are threatened by the major TV networks that they will lose their affiliate status if they preempt network programming.  Fortunately there are a few notable exceptions of broadcasters pushing back on the networks, including Capitol Broadcasting’s Mr. Goodmon, and others like Pappas Communications.  But when local programming decisions are dictated or prohibited by a corporation often thousands of miles away, the public interest cannot be served.


“Media consolidation has led to self-serving news media that seek to protect the interests of their own corporate parents.  When the broadcast networks challenged the FCC’s ability to enforce indecency standards they convinced two federal judges in New York City that they have a ‘right’ to air the ‘F-word’ at any time of day, even when they know millions of children are watching.  Although dozens of concerned family groups, including the PTC, were shocked that a federal court could reach such a preposterous conclusion, there has been only limited public outcry over that decision.  The reason for this is simple: in large measure, the American people don’t know that it has happened.  In the wake of that court decision, not a single national broadcast news organization saw fit to cover it, and even with a host of 24-hour-a-day news channels on cable, there was near zero coverage of a decision that will directly impact every family in the country as well as the policies determining appropriate use of the airwaves that they themselves own. 


“Why no coverage?  We believe that the corporate news divisions did not cover their parent companies’ lawsuits because they knew the public would be incensed by the arrogance of a media conglomerate arguing for the ‘right’ to air profanity in front of their children early in the day over the airwaves that they – the public - own.


“It should be noted that the Second Circuit F-word lawsuit, and the now-pending Third Circuit lawsuit alleging that the Janet Jackson Super Bowl striptease was not indecent, were not brought by local broadcasters like Mr. Goodmon.  Rather, these lawsuits were filed by the major television networks: those same corporations who want an even greater control of America’s media.


“In November 2004, Viacom – then the corporate parent of the CBS television network – entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC wherein it admitted airing indecent material, paid a fine and committed itself to a detailed compliance plan to prevent the further airing of indecent material.   


“Within weeks of signing that agreement, CBS re-aired a program containing a teenage sex orgy scene.  When the FCC ruled on the tens of thousands of indecency complaints filed by the public, CBS was required to take immediate remedial steps.  But there is no evidence that compliance plan was followed, and CBS has openly admitted as much.  They have effectively breached the agreement that they themselves negotiated with the FCC.  Given this clear disregard for the public interest, why should CBS have their licenses renewed, much less increased? We have gone on record to ask the FCC to reconsider all broadcast licenses held by CBS.


“If you think media consolidation has stifled the broadcast industry, please listen carefully to the following statistics on cable.  At my office in Los Angeles, there are 48 cable networks bundled together on the expanded basic cable tier.  Of those 48 cable networks, Viacom owns all or part of 8 of them; NBC owns all or part of 8; Disney owns all or part of 8; News Corporation owns all or part of 6; Liberty Media owns all or part of 6; and the local cable operator, Time-Warner, owns all or part of 7 of those networks.  By using the retransmission consent rules, these conglomerates are able to use their TV station broadcast licenses in an extortion-like way to force unwanted cable networks onto our cable systems and onto our cable bills.


“There has been much attention paid recently to the acquisition of The Wall Street Journal by News Corporation.  Imagine the outrage if Mr. Murdock demanded that subscribers to the Journal must now take and pay for the New York Post?  But that is precisely what he is doing with his new Fox Business Network.  News Corporation is able to force its new business network onto cable systems across the country, regardless of whether a single consumer wanted another cable business news network.  Such bundled programming arrangements may be great for Wall Street, but it is not good for Main Street, and clearly it does not serve the public interest.


“There has been a great deal of discussion about the lack of diversity in the American media landscape as it relates to the ownership of media properties, and rightfully so.  Most Americans can name one network that caters to African-American audiences: BET; but can you name a second or a third?  You can’t, because they simply don’t exist as an option on most cable systems.  For example, the Black Family Channel, the only black owned and operated cable television network for African American families, is now only distributed via broadband internet.   Because it is independently owned and cannot apply the same bundling leverage that conglomerate-owned cable networks can, Black Family Channel was effectively shut out from carriage.  In an environment dominated by media giants, there has developed no free market that would allow additional minority programming to be created and distributed.


“Mr. Chairman, how can media conglomerates be afforded the additional public trust to hold even more broadcast licenses when they behave in this manner? 


“This Committee, the Congress and the FCC must work in concert to protect the interests of the public – the very owners of the airwaves.  In the strongest terms, I urge the Congress to consider these issues carefully as it evaluates any appropriate action on the issues of localism, diversity and media ownership.”


To schedule an interview with a PTC representative, please contact Kelly Oliver (ext. 140) or Megan Franko (ext. 148) at (703) 683-5004.

The Parents Television Council™ (www.parentstv.org®) is a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. It was founded in 1995 to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media. This national grassroots organization has more than 1.3 million members across the United States, and works with television producers, broadcasters, networks and sponsors in an effort to stem the flow of harmful and negative messages targeted to children. The PTC also works with elected and appointed government officials to enforce broadcast decency standards. Most importantly, the PTC produces critical research and publications documenting the dramatic increase in sex, violence and profanity in entertainment. This information is provided free of charge so parents can make informed viewing choices for their own families.




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