Jackson-Led Group Opposes MRC Bill


A group of African-American cable-TV executives and community leaders, led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, voiced their opposition Monday to proposed legislation that mandates accreditation for TV ratings, claiming that such regulation would ultimately harm of “audiences of color.”

The group opposed to the “Fair Ratings Act,” introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), includes top cable-network officials Debra Lee, president and chief operating officer of Black Entertainment Television; and Johnathan Rodgers, CEO of TV One.

The other black leaders that signed the letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation were: Dorothy Height, chairman of the executive committee of the National Council of Negro Women; Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League; Don Jackson, chairman and CEO of Central City Productions Inc.; Byron Lewis, chairman and CEO of UniWorld Group Inc.; and independent filmmaker Warrington Hudlin.

The Burns legislation -- which mandates that any ratings service must win accreditation from the Media Rating Council, an industry association, in order to operate -- also picked up a proponent Monday. erinMedia Inc. -- a new TV-ratings provider that has lodged an antitrust suit against Nielsen Media Research -- said it is supporting the Burns bill.

Last week, the National Association of Broadcasters also came out in favor of the bill, which will be the subject of a hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday.

In their letter, Jackson, president and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and the other African-American leaders expressed their support for Nielsen’s new “Local People Meters,” the rollout of which has led to a battle that has now wound up before the Senate Commerce Committee in the form of the Burns bill.

“Accurate television-audience-measurement ratings, which help determine what America gets to watch, are of enormous concern to people of color,” the Jackson group wrote in its letter.

“For generations, our people have been underrepresented or misrepresented on TV and behind the cameras, which is why we strongly support more reliable methods of measuring all television audiences,” the letter stated. “This bill would delay and even perhaps prevent methods that are more reliably measuring audiences of color from being more widely used in the marketplace.”

In their letter, the black leaders also charged that the bill would be particularly harmful to smaller networks, stations and ad agencies, particularly those owned or operated by Latinos.

“Because of the way Nielsen’s local Spanish-language ratings are assembled, they cannot be accredited under the MRC’s rules,” the Jackson letter stated. “The large cost of meeting the MRC’s rules would make it impossible for local Spanish-language stations to afford an MRC-accredited service.”

Finally, the Jackson group wrote, “We are greatly dismayed that some corporate interests in the media business -- who have rarely, if ever, shown particular sensitivity to fair representation of people of color -- are attacking Nielsen and pursuing legislation to keep more advanced technology out of the market.”

Manuel Machado, past chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, as well as Bill Imada, president of the Asian American Advertising Federation, are also on record against the Senate and House bills.

erinMedia, in supporting the Burns bill, would be willing to submit to MRC scrutiny -- even thought it would mean additional costs and delays for the company -- “in exchange for the order and consistency it will provide to an industry that has been strong-armed by the Nielsen monopoly for too long,” according to chairman and CEO Frank Maggio.

TV One, an African-American-targeted network, is part-owned by Comcast Corp. Last week, Comcast’s ad-sales arm, Comcast Spotlight, said it was opposed to the Burns bill.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.).

In addition to Comcast Spotlight, the Burns bill picked up two other opponents last week: San Francisco-based Asian-language broadcaster KTSF and an independent task force that was created last year to evaluate Nielsen’s measurement of African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American audiences.

Task-force member and actor George Takei, a veteran of Star Trek,and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) are also against the Burns bill.