FCC HEARINGS ON TURNER’S CBS BID URGED
Six Democratic senators on Monday urged Mark Fowler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to hold a series of thorough hearings on broadcaster Ted Turner’s bid to buy the CBS television network.
In a letter to Fowler, the senators said their concern over the proposed acquisition had been heightened by the FCC’s announcement last week that it planned to conduct an informal one-day hearing on the matter.
“The public interest, in our opinion, demands more than a one-day oral argument,” the senators wrote. “It seems clear to us from reports of the letters and petitions you have on file that the public’s interest is in a full exposition of the record of Mr. Turner’s plans, finances and capabilities to operate CBS.”
Turner, founder of the Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, has proposed to buy CBS using mostly bonds and loans, many of which would be paid off by selling some CBS assets.
The letter was signed by Sens. Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, Wendell H. Ford of Kentucky, John Kerry of Massachusetts, J. James Exon of Nebraska and Jim Sasser of Tennessee.
Eagleton, who released a separate statement to reporters, said the commission’s plan for assessing Turner’s takeover bid is “lackadaisical” and “flies in the face of public concern.”
The senators’ letter cited press reports of a huge volume of petitions and letters the five-member commission had received recently in opposition to a Turner buy-out.
“A broad range of civil rights, religious, labor and public interest groups . . . opposed the takeover bid on the grounds that it would increase concentration of media ownership,” the letter said.
“Others, including more than 100 television stations affiliated with CBS, apparently have good reason to believe a Turner takeover would spell financial disaster for CBS.”
The senators said that in similar past cases, the FCC has adopted special procedures, including evidentiary hearings, to ensure a complete record before any takeover of a media company was approved.
“Yet we read (in the industry publication Communications Daily) that your staff believes it would be ‘very strange’ if an evidentiary hearing was held,” the senators wrote. “This causes us to question whether the agency intends to carry out its mandate as required by law.”
FCC spokesman Bill Russell said there would be no public response to the senators’ letter.
“The commission hasn’t made a final decision on what form the hearing will take,” Russell said. “So far, plans call for a single day of testimony from various groups before the entire commission.”