Commissioner charges White House interfered in network sale
WASHINGTON, D.C.–FCC commissioner James Quello charged in late September that the Clinton administration and the FCC chairman pressured Westinghouse into promising to carry more children’s programming and support such requirements for all broadcasters after it announced it would purchase the CBS network.
Quello’s charges were made in response to a request by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.Dak.) that each commissioner disclose any contact with Westinghouse that involved discussion of a “social contract” — an agreement that would obligate Westinghouse to provide children’s programming and offer free time for presidential candidates — as a condition of the CBS purchase. The FCC has the authority to review the purchase, and critics claim the agreement was a prerequisite to FCC approval.
In the letter to Pressler, Quello said Greg Simon, Vice President Gore’s special assistant for telecommunications policy issues, telephoned Quello the day before the Westinghouse promise was announced, seeking support on a commitment for more educational children’s television.
“In that call, Mr. Simon asked that I would support not only a voluntary agreement between CBS and Westinghouse involving quantitative children’s programming requirements, but also the imposition of such requirements on all broadcasters,” said Quello.
“Mr. Simon also said he hoped I would contact Vice President Gore’s office if I planned on giving a speech or making any public statement critical of Chairman [Reed] Hundt, and expressing contrary views on children’s programming,” Quello added.
Simon called Quello’s account of their conversation inaccurate. An aide in Gore’s office said that Simon telephoned Quello only to inform him of a letter from President Clinton and National Telecommunications & Information Administration Director Larry Irving to the FCC, supporting adoption of quantitative children’s programming guidelines, according to reports by Broadcasting & Cable magazine.
Senator Pressler and House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Jack Fields (R-Tex.) also wrote to Hundt to voice concern over the Westinghouse announcement.
An investigation is already underway in the U.S. House of Representatives concerning Hundt’s involvement in the Westinghouse-CBS deal, while House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Va.) has asked Congress for an investigation to determine whether Simon attempted to improperly influence Quello.
According to Broadcasting and Cable magazine, Westinghouse said that its recent pledge to deliver more children’s educational programming during the 1996-1997 television season was strictly voluntary.
Broadcasting & Cable reported that Hundt has denied making any deals with Westinghouse over children’s programming.
Quello’s letter also stated that the FCC should not have the authority to adopt and implement policy decisions through social contracts. He said that he strongly opposed any government action that “coerces broadcasters into acceding to social contracts” or endangers their “First Amendment and due process rights.”