N.Y. Politicians Cross Cables over Access for Fox Channel

Article excerpt

The politics of cable television has taken on the tenor of rush-hour traffic in the Big Apple.

With about as much subtlety as horn-honking cabbies, the state's top politicians have taken sides in a battle between two media conglomerates - Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and Time-Warner.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R) and Gov. George Pataki (R), who maintain that Fox is bringing jobs to the city, have sided with Mr. Murdoch in his quest to get his new 24-hour all-news channel on Time-Warner's cable system in New York. In a further effort to put pressure on Time, New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco has said he would look into the dispute for any antitrust violations. Executives at Time, which owns Cable News Network, say there is no room on the 78-channel cable system for Murdoch. The political muscle-flexing underscores the long-standing debate over cable access. While it's not unusual for cable programmers to have friends in government, the actions by top state politicians concerns some media experts. "It is the most bizarre situation," says Lawrence Grossman, the former president of NBC and PBS. Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger says the mayor's interference "seems to me to be way beyond the pale." She has asked the city's Conflict of Interest Board to look into the situation because the mayor's wife, Donna Hanover, works for Fox. In the 1970s, city officials across the US tried to influence the nature and content of the expanding cable systems. "Awards {for cable contracts} were made because cable systems often promised to carry particular services and programs, usually because they said they would put on local news," says Monroe Price, a law professor at Yeshiva University's Benjamin Cardoza School of Law. But a 1984 federal law tried to preclude such influence, he notes. Now cable operators can only promise broad categories of programming in return for franchises. …

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