- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

International media mogul Rupert Murdoch defended his company’s proposed purchase of satellite television giant DirecTV yesterday, telling lawmakers the deal will not hurt competition nor limit consumer choices.

“This is not anticompetitive,” Mr. Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp., told a Senate panel.

Critics sharply disagreed during the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing. Several argued that the deal, combined with a Federal Communications Commission proposal to lift decades-old media-ownership restrictions, would allow a handful of giant companies to control what the nation watches, hears and reads.

“I think the country is on the edge of a cliff here. … These changes are not going to be good for the country,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate committee, told Mr. Murdoch.

In April, News Corp. announced plans to purchase 34 percent of Hughes Electronics Corp., a General Motors Corp. division that operates DirecTV Inc., the nation’s largest satellite-television provider, with 11.2 million subscribers.

Federal regulators have not approved the deal, which is valued at $6.6 billion. Last year, regulators rejected a proposed merger between DirecTV and its chief competitor, EchoStar Communications Corp.

Mr. Murdoch told lawmakers that he will improve DirecTV by offering more local television stations and faster Internet accessif the News Corp. deal is approved. He also ruled out going on a buying spree if the ownership rules are relaxed, telling the lawmakers that he has “no plans for anything other than [the deal] I have before you.”

News Corp. is one of the world’s largest media and entertainment conglomerates. It publishes newspapers and books, and owns the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, the Twentieth Century Fox movie studio, the Fox television broadcast network, 35 television stations, the Fox News Channel cable network and a cable sports-programming service.

Opponents say that approving the deal would allow Mr. Murdoch to force cable operators to pay more to carry the Fox networks, home of popular programs such as “American Idol” and “The O’Reilly Factor.” If the operators don’t comply, Mr. Murdoch could pull the networks off cable and move them to DirecTV, they say.

The Senate hearing was the last in a series on media consolidation held while the FCC considers whether to lift its ownership-restriction rules, which media executives call outdated. The regulators are scheduled to vote June 2.

Among the proposals are allowing companies to own multiple TV stations in one city and allowing one company to own newspapers, and TV and radio stations in the same city.

FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell and the two other Republicans on the five-member panel favor easing regulations, which were created from 1941 to 1975. The two Democrats say Mr. Powell is rushing to vote without properly advising the public.

Media executives have vowed to continue to provide news and other forms of local programming if the rules are relaxed, but opponents who testified before the Senate panel yesterday were skeptical.

“We shouldn’t have to rely on a benevolent media dictator for quality news,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior director of advocacy and public policy for the Consumers Union, an advocacy group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine.


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