The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, November 15, 2003

Reagan: The Miniseries - at last a plausible reason for the CBS capitulation

When last we visited the question (November 5), the wiseacres of the press were offering all sorts of childish, connect-the-dots and otherwise unsatisfying explanations for the undignified and precipitous surrender of CBS to the barking of a handful of mangy conservative attack-dogs and their various parasites.

It almost looked like CBS were taking some kind of dive, so eager and prompt were they to stuff their faces with humble-pie.

Now, we have an explanation that rises to the level of plausibility (which, with this sort of story, is pretty damned high, in my brief experience of watching such matters with a modicum of attention.)

The explanation - let's call it hypothesis - is this: CBS is owned by Viacom; and Viacom is interested in
  1. keeping the number of O&O - owned-and-operated - TV stations that it currently has; and

  2. avoiding restraints on increasing that number, should the opportunity arise.

An AP piece (November 13) says:
...cynics may counter that ...the network pandered to conservative Washington lawmakers whose votes it needs for high-stakes legislation that, among other things, would allow its parent Viacom to own more local stations.

CBS chief Leslie Moonves denies any such motive, natch.

Meanwhile, in the Arizona Republic (November 13), O. Ricardo Pimentel (who really should drop the photo byline!) says
Viacom, parent company to both CBS and Showtime, is hoping that the Bush White House vetoes any legislation that prevents the Federal Communication Commission's relaxation of media ownership rules.

So far, all we have is connect-the-dots. Is there any evidence of activity on the Hill which might result in either raising or lowering FCC restrictions on Viacom's potential O&O operations? A search on THOMAS on federal communications commission lists 55 bills and resolutions. There are several which are or might be relevant - most of which have progressed no further than referral to committee. One or two have gone further [1] - but I have no feel for what is important here and what mere grandstanding.

On the regulatory side, the Federal Communications Commission issued a report - FCC 03-127, dated June 2 2003, issued on July 2 (just to confuse!) - which is its latest (258 page) biennial review on broadcast ownership rules [2]. I can make no useful comment on its significance to the TV industry in general, or Viacom in particular.

But it's clear that there is evidence in the form of both legislative and regulatory activity on the broadcast ownership rules that a TV network might find now a bad time to upset any group of persons with leverage over such matters.

I think most would stipulate to the presence of an above-average concentration of Reagan adulators in the White House. I've no idea whether a veto might be needed against Hill product. But - better safe that sorry.

It's a plausible hypothesis - that's all. But at least it doesn't insult the intelligence, like some of the other theories on offer.

(That's enough Reagan: The Miniseries. Ed)

  1. THOMAS is partly on the fritz, so bill texts from the extremely inefficient GPO bills search page. The bills that have gone beyond reference to committee are (fallibe visual scan of 55 items!): S 1264; S 1046; S JRes 17. H Amdt 289 to HR 2799 (appropriations bill) lost on Roll Call #407. S JRes 17 directly addresses FCC 03-127 - by annulling it!

  2. For copies of the report and related documentation, go to this page and search on 03-127. The main report is here (PDF).

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