CBS Inc. Chairman Thomas H. Wyman, commenting on reports of a possible takeover bid by Atlanta broadcaster Ted Turner, said today Turner does not have the "conscience" to own a network.
Wyman, in a speech to Wall Street analysts here today, said that CBS will vigorously oppose a takeover attempt by Fairness in Media, the politically conservative group supported by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), or by Turner, who owns Cable News Network.
Fairness in Media has said it will try to gain control of CBS to end what it calls the network's "liberal bias." Turner has said in the past that he would like to acquire one of the three major networks, and reportedly has had discussions with both Helms and Fairness in Media recently. A representative of Turner has sounded out members of the Federal Communications Commission in recent weeks about their potential reactions to a hostile takeover of CBS or another network.
"We haven't seen a broadcaster we think would be qualified to gain control of the CBS Network ," Wyman said.
After the meeting with the analysts, Wyman said, "He Turner is not qualified because he doesn't have the conscience. When what you are broadcasting goes out to 70 million people, you better be thinking about something broader than the things I think occupy his Turner's thinking, and that includes money."
Wyman also said Sen. Helms would not be a qualified buyer.
There is "no financial substance behind reports that Ted Turner plans to take over a network, any network," Wyman said. "Turner Broadcasting privately acknowledges that reports about a Turner takeover bid for one of the networks were exaggerated and inaccurate."
Wyman said an attempted takeover by Fairness in Media or by Turner would hurt the public, as well as the CBS Network.
"We regard proposals that would impair the integrity of CBS News as contrary to the traditions of the First Amendment of this country and the traditions of this company," Wyman said. "We are opposing them as vigorously as we know how. We have filed a serious lawsuit against Fairness in Media ."
He said he has been spending a great amount of his time fighting the potential threat of a takeover by Fairness in Media. "I can't think of anything more important than this," he said.
Wyman said that while CBS has refused to give Fairness in Media a list of its shareholders, it would have to comply if the group asks to send material to CBS stockholders, provided CBS handles the mailing. Wyman said the only grounds for refusing such a request would be if the contents of such a mailing were regarded as extremist.
Wyman said Fairness in Media has asked CBS how much it would cost the group to distribute materials to CBS stockholders, if CBS handles the mailing, but has not asked CBS to mail out any materials so far.
Some analysts believe that what began in January as a campaign by Helms and other conservatives has made CBS more vulnerable to a takeover by a third party. However, analysts credit Wyman with eliminating excess costs and improving profits at CBS, and believe CBS would have some powerful defensive weapons at its disposal in such a fight.
Although none of the three major networks has been the target of successful hostile takeover bids, the FCC has indicated that it will not stand in the way of a takeover, as long as the potential acquirer is a qualified buyer.
CBS is not the only network that has been discussed as a potential takeover target. American Broadcasting Companies Inc., the parent company of the ABC television network, is Turner's real target, some observers believe.
Helms launched the conservatives' takeover campaign by mailing 1 million letters with his signature to conservatives asking them to buy stock in CBS Inc. so they can "become Dan Rather's boss" and end what the letter calls biased news reporting.