Murdoch Still Faces Fight

In case anyone thought his takeover of DirecTV was a done deal, senators and broadcasters are trying to shake concessions from News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch.

NAB wants the new satellite-cable-programming-movies-broadcast operation to play fair, it told the FCC. For example, the new entity could exploit its distribution power in its relationships with Fox affiliates, "endangering their ability to adequately serve local interests or provide diversity."

Fresh off a court victory against EchoStar over that company's marketing of out-of-area network signals rather than local stations, NAB wants some guarantees from News Corp.

The demands: DirecTV must be prohibited from providing Fox network feeds where local Fox stations are available; the company must not discriminate in business dealings against local stations owned by competitors; and the company must provide local service in all 210 markets by Jan. 1, 2006. News Corp. has stated universal local coverage as a goal but has not proposed a timeline.

"This shift in power from local stations to Fox at the national level will almost certainly result in harm to local interests, with a parallel reduction in the quantity and quality of diversity in the market," NAB wrote. "The Commission should grant transfer only under conditions that would preserve the economic viability of local affiliates."

The Center for Digital Democracy went further, telling the FCC to reject the deal outright.

"The problems with this transfer span a number of critical areas, including digital television, interactive television, broadband content, electronic program guides, conditional-access software, advertising competition and set-top box market," CDD wrote. "That such a deal has emerged is a clear illustration of the failure of Commission policy (past and current commissions) to adequately regulate the broadcast, multichannel, and digital television arenas."

June 18, Murdoch told a Senate panel that the deal would be good for consumers. The committee took no action, but lawmakers of both parties are at least adopting skeptical rhetoric.

"Such consolidation might leave the media in the hands of fewer and fewer vertically integrated companies, companies with enough market power to effectively exclude independent programmers and raise prices both to the detriment of American consumers and the marketplace of ideas," said Senate Antitrust and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican.