Indie producers fight media consolidation

Looking for help from the FCC, a group of independent television producers and writers want the government to require that the major television networks devote at least 25 percent of their primetime schedules to independently produced programming.

The issue, raised by the Coalition for Program Diversity, is being raised during the media ownership debate because the independents argue that current network fares reflect little diversity in ownership or content. The issue, they contend, should be included in the rewrite of ownership rules the FCC plans to complete on June 2.

At least four major networks, who now have ownership interests of much of their programming, are against the move. They argue that it amounts to a return of the financial-syndication rules that the FCC voided about 10 years ago.

Last week, Fox, NBC, Viacom and ABC filed a 66-page document with the FCC arguing that any resurrection of the “fin-syn” rules are “unjustifiable and legally groundless.”

Washington attorney Mickey Gardner, who represents the independents, told Daily Variety, the entertainment industry trade, that the arguments of the networks are a “frantic and frivolous effort” aimed at discrediting the research his group submitted to the FCC showing a dramatic decline in Indie programming for primetime network audiences.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said he will not consider the independent programming issue in the current media ownership rules debate. Gardner, however, said he is still hopeful that Powell will reconsider the request and make a concession to Indie Hollywood producers and writers during the final weeks of the rulemaking process. Gardner met with GOP commissioner Kevin Martin to discuss the issue last week.

“Our request is inextricably tied to any commission action (on the ownership rules) and it is essential that it be adopted so that 43 million consumers who only have access to network television can enjoy diverse programming,” Gardner said.

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