FCC wants explanation for blacked out programming in Alabama

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has officially asked WHNT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Huntsville, AL, to provide an explanation for the blackout of a controversial “60 Minutes” segment. About 20 complaints were filed with the FCC, he estimated.

In an appearance before the National Press Club last week, Michael Copps confirmed that he had urged Martin to investigate a question raised by the extraordinary timing of the malfunction at the station, which began just as a highly anticipated report about a major political scandal in the state was to begin, and ended in time for the program’s next segment.

Remembering a 1955 case of a Mississippi TV station that blocked a network news program about desegregation and spuriously claimed that cable trouble was to blame, Copps said, “The FCC now needs to find out if something analogous is going on here. Was this an attempt to suppress information on the public airwaves, or was it really just a technical problem?”

The report covered the case of Don Siegelman, a former Democrat governor of Alabama who was jailed for corruption last June. The case was a bitter controversy between Democrats and the Bush administration.

Last week, the station blamed the malfunction on a failed video server. The FCC inquiry elevates the matter to the beginning of an official inquiry.