Cable Lobby Is The Epitome Of Hyprocrisy

Cable just can't have it both ways. Having opposed the FCC's so-called standstill provision that bars cable operators from dropping independent cable networks while their carriage complaints are pending at the commission, it can't continue to push for a standstill in retrans consent disputes with broadcasters.

Hypocrisy is a columnist’s best friend. If you find a good example, the column pretty much writes itself. All you have to do is point it out and decry it, hoping the exposure will shame the hypocrites into changing their ways and acting like proper ladies and gentlemen.

So, I guess I owe cable operators thanks for making my job so easy today with their hypocritical behavior at the FCC of late.

The FCC today adopted new rules on the handling of complaints by independent cable networks — that is, networks unaffiliated with cable operators — under the agency’s program carriage rules. Those rules, mandated by the Cable Act of 1992, say that cable operators may not discriminate against independent networks or take a financial stake in them as a condition of carriage.

According to the independent networks, the old complaint process was deeply flawed, providing little help to them.

“It’s not been an effective tool,” says Andy Schwartzman, of the Media Access Project, which is backing the independent programmers and standstills as a means of bringing more diversity to cable. “You had to be a little bit crazy or very deep pocketed in order to pursue the remedy.”

Among the new rules designed to make the complaint process work as intended is a so-called standstill provision that bars cable operators from bouncing networks off their systems while their complaints are pending at the FCC.


The FCC adopted the standstill over the vigorous objections of NCTA and leading cable operators. Over the past month or so, cable reps made a full-court press at the FCC in an effort to talk the commissioners out of imposing the standstill. To no avail, as it turned out.

I can see why cable opposed it. Operators’ leverage will be seriously diminished if a programmer remains on their systems (and on the same tier) while a renewal deal is being worked out or a complaint wends its way through the FCC.

But at the same time cable operators were opposing a standstill when it comes to dealing with independent programmers, they were advocating for one when it comes to dealing with broadcasters on retransmission consent. And they continue to do so.

Hold on. Let me check my tattered 1963 Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Yes, I’m right. That is the very definition of hypocrisy.

Cable operators want the standstill in retrans for the same reason they didn’t want one in program carriage. The standstill works for the party with the weak hand and, right now, cable has the weak hand in retrans and the upper hand in program carriage.

Of course, when in retrans mode, the operators don’t call it a standstill. They call it “interim carriage.” I suppose that’s a way of not calling too much attention to their hypocrisy. Although the FCC has said that it doesn’t have the authority to require a standstill in retrans, the operators keep bringing it up in the retrans reform proceeding.

Much of NCTA’s case against the standstill in the program carriage proceeding rode on the FCC’s having not specifically proposed it and invited comments on it. Cable’s principal lobby suggests that that violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the law that tries to keep rulemakings on the up and up.

That’s a little hypocritical, too. If this were something that NCTA wanted, it would ram it through, the APA and any other procedural safeguards be damned. That’s not just the NCTA, by the way. Any lobby would do the same.

Cable just can’t have it both ways. Having opposed a standstill in program carriage, it can’t continue to push for one in retrans.

Hypocrisy is bad form, even in Washington.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be reached at 973-701-1067 or mailto:[email protected]. You can read his other columns here.

Comments (2)

Leave a Reply

len Kubas says:

July 29, 2011 at 5:17 pm

One suspects that somehow the byline of this yarn should be Harry Jessel, and not a repeat of the headline.

Brian Walshe says:

July 30, 2011 at 1:57 pm

While we’re at it… get the FCC to make using Cable Leased Commercial Access easier to do. That would enable LPTV’s that don’t have “must carry” benefits and other program producers to take advantage of this little-used-because-of-too-much-hassle programming opportunity on local cable systems. New rules need to be added to reflect the new digital nature of cable.
*Keep the 10% and 15% of activated channel capacity requirements. That makes a lot more channels available, for both HD and SD LCA content.
*Put LCA on the most-subscribed-to tiers.
*Keep cable operators from compressing the Leased Commercial Access users’ offerings beyond what they do to major networks so that the playing field remains “even” and LCA looks as good as HBO-HD.
*Require Cable operators to advertise the availability of Leased Commercial Access on cable bills, with quarterly bill-stuffers, on consumer-visited websites and via insertions on “most viewed” cable channels during the hours of 6 a.m. to Midnight, 7 days a week. By “availability” I mean promote the opportunity to lease time, and also promote LCA programmer’s offerings.