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McCain speaks out on Time Warner-ABC flap

May 2, 2000
Web posted at: 6:07 p.m. EDT (2207 GMT)

Washington (CNN) - Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) said Tuesday that Time-Warner Cable's retransmission dispute with Disney-ABC is a prime example of the negative effect the concentrated power of media conglomerates can have on the average American.

"It's unfortunate that greedy corporations have disputes that reach such a level that average citizens are deprived of their ability to receive entertainment and information which they deserve," said the outspoken former presidential candidate, as he talked to reporters just before a temporary deal between the two companies was announced.

Despite the Time Warner-ABC settlement, a spokeswoman for the Commerce Committee said McCain hopes to hold a hearing early this summer to look into problems surrounding consent conditions, and what can be done to prevent these disputes from recurring.

The Senate's powerful Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over a wide range of communications concerns.

"I would argue that five years ago this couldn't have happened because one corporation wouldn't have had this much authority or concentration of power," said McCain.

"I say that they're to blame," he said of the burgeoning concentrations of influence in the media industry. "And I think it's up to us in Congress, but particularly to start with, the [Federal Communications Commission], to find out whose responsibility it is."

The dispute between the broadcast network and the cable distributor arose as the two sought to negotiate a new fee structure to be paid by Time Warner to ABC for rights to transmit the network's programs -- and those of Disney-ABC's other television properties -- over its various cable systems.

ABC agreed Tuesday to extend retransmission negotiations with Time Warner until July 15, allowing ABC stations to return to Time Warner cable systems by as early as Tuesday night.

The signals returned to some markets earlier than that. In Manhattan, for example, cable TV viewers were able by mid-afternoon to tune back in to their favorite soap operas on WABC.

About 3.5 million cable homes were affected by the removal of seven Disney-owned ABC stations. The affected markets included households in New York; portions of the Los Angeles area; Houston; Flint, Michigan; Philadelphia; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Fresno, California; and Toledo, Ohio.

Viewers in those markets had two options: Buy old-fashioned antennae for their sets, or watch friends' satellite TV systems.

Time Warner Cable -- a sister company to CNN.com, a Time Warner Inc. property -- charged that the Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC, was to blame for the limited blackout.

"Disney is trying to inappropriately use its ownership of ABC to extract excessive and unreasonable terms for its cable channels -- terms that would add hundreds of millions of dollars in costs for Time Warner Communications and its cable customers," Time Warner said in a message to its Los Angeles subscribers.

Officials with ABC accused Time Warner of trying to punish the network, but instead meting out the punishment to its cable customers.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

 
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