MRC Bill Burns Nielsen

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Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) introduced a bill Friday that would have the government step in and make it mandatory for all TV-ratings systems to get accredited by the Media Rating Council.

Burns -- who dubbed his bill the “Fairness, Accuracy, Inclusivity and Responsiveness in Ratings Act” -- complained that Nielsen Media Research has been “reluctant” to submit to the authority of the MRC.

The MRC -- an industry organization that sets standards in ratings accuracy -- was created 40 years ago following Congressional investigations into TV-viewership measurement.

“This legislative remedy will reaffirm the same standard that was intended by Congress and the television industry over 40 years ago when the Media Rating Council was first established,” Burns said in a prepared statement. “It has become clear that the MRC lacks the authority to enforce its standards. This has frustrated the MRC’s role in ensuring ratings accuracy and has obstructed Congressional intent.”

Burns claimed that his legislation affirms the idea that Nielsen, or any future competitor, must receive accreditation from an independent source before they become the standard of the industry.

The bill is being co-sponsored by Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and George Allen (R-Va.).

Nielsen immediately expressed its opposition to the bill.

“We are disappointed that political leaders who espouse free-market principles would use the power of the federal government to choose sides in a commercial dispute among private companies,” Nielsen said in a prepared statement.

“The bill, which was drafted in cooperation with News Corp., would benefit only those companies that want to maintain the status quo in the television industry,” the company added. “The bill subjects Nielsen Media alone to government control. No other media survey is impacted.”

The ratings service also charged that the bill would mean a slower introduction of new technology, that it would violate antitrust law and that it would transform the MRC “into a virtual arm of the federal government.”

Nielsen has been battling with broadcasters, led by News Corp., over the rollout of “Local People Meters.”

Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of African-American and Hispanic groups, is supporting the bill.

“The FAIR Ratings bill is simple and common-sense,” Don’t Count Us Out executive director Cynthia Rotunno said in a prepared statement. “It mandates any TV-ratings provider to meet minimum standards of accuracy.”

Rotunno added, “There is no mandatory system of checks and balances over Nielsen.”

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduling a one-day hearing on the bill, with Burns chairing the proceeding.

Don’t Count Us Out stressed that the bill would apply to all TV-ratings companies, not just Nielsen.

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