News Corp., Hughes Must Cough Up Info

The FCC, charged with the task of approving News Corp.'s takeover of controlling interest in Hughes Electronics and its DirecTV satellite operation, has sent the companies a long list of questions on everything from News Corp.'s interest in various entities to economic analyses and plans for the merged entity.

The commission wants answers to the 10-pages of complex questions by Aug. 6. A News Corp. spokesman said compliance with the FCC request would not be a problem.

The questions touch on nearly every aspect of the companies' present and planned operations. Topics include market shares and revenues for News Corp.'s far-flung cable and broadcast properties, plans for HDTV and strategy for use of electronic program guides. The FCC also wants "detailed explanations" of how the merger will demonstrate the benefits for consumers.

Critics of the deal responded that the questions don't go far enough. The Center for Digital Democracy tried to persuade the commission that it should inquire about the relationship between News Corp. and Liberty Media Corp., a diverse holding company controlled in part by cable tycoon John Malone, that recently made a major investment in News Corp. to help boost its bid for Hughes.

"What must be learned is how Liberty and News Corp. will work together (both in terms of DirecTV/Hughes) and other Fox-related matters", CDD Executive Director Jeff Chester wrote. Joint or related programming ventures or special treatment for Liberty associated ventures must be identified and vetted prior to any decision."

For example, preferential treatment for Liberty programming might harm competition and diversity, Chester argued. He also said the FCC should find out how the companies plan to address interactive TV technology.