NCTA Questions Belo’s Disclosure Ethics

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TV-station owner Belo Corp.’s ethics were questioned by the cable industry Tuesday after the company’s Dallas Morning News ran an editorial (www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/020506dnedidigital.bc50b.html) supporting multicast must-carry for digital-TV stations without disclosing Belo’s lobbying effort against the cable industry.

“As the owner of newspapers including The Dallas Morning News, we believe Belo has an ethical duty to disclose its ownership interests whenever it uses the power of its public voice to advocate policies directly benefiting its own business interests,” said Rob Stoddard, senior vice president of communications at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in a Feb. 8 letter to the editor of the newspaper.

Belo -- which owns or operates seven cable news networks and owns four daily newspapers and 19 TV stations -- is urging the Federal Communications Commission to force cable to carry five or six digital-programming services, up from just one currently. With the FCC expected to reject multicast must-carry Thursday, Belo last week called on the agency to postpone the vote.

In the Feb. 6 editorial, Belo's Dallas paper said rejection of expanded must-carry rights for TV stations “would undermine digital television's potential and effectively concentrate programming decisions in the hands of five major cable companies and two major satellite companies nationwide.”

The editorial, according to versions available on Lexis-Nexis and the paper’s Web site, did not mention Belo’s FCC advocacy as a TV-station owner with signals that reach about 14% of U.S. television households.

The Dallas paper ran an editorial on the same issue Feb. 1 in which Belo’s various media-ownership interests were disclosed but not the company’s direct lobbying of Congress and the FCC.

“All that we would say is that Belo consistently discloses its ownership relationships. It is surprising to no one in the Dallas market that the Dallas Morning News is owned by Belo Corp.,” Belo spokesman Carey Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson did not comment on whether both editorials should have disclosed Belo’s lobbying in addition to its ownership interests.

The Dallas Morning News has every right under the First Amendment to editorialize on any subject of its choice. However, when the subject is one in which its parent company has a significant financial interest, it has an obligation for its readers to know of its stake in the outcome of the matter for which it is advocating,” Stoddard said.

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