Federal Communications Commission Chairman Mark S. Fowler defended the commission yesterday against charges by CBS Inc. that the FCC's review of Atlanta broadcaster Ted Turner's takeover bid lacks fairness and objectivity.
Fowler, who testified along with CBS Chairman Thomas H. Wyman and Turner before the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday, said he wanted to set the record straight because Wyman's prepared remarks accused the FCC of being biased in its review of Turner's bid to acquire CBS. Turner needs FCC approval before he can proceed with his takeover attempt.
Fowler also termed "incorrect" examples of allegedly improper FCC behavior contained in a letter sent to the commission earlier this week by CBS General Counsel George Vradenburg III. "His Vradenburg's factual basis is incorrect. . . . I asked my staff to look at the factual circumstances underlying these allegations in the letter, and I find that in every case, he is factually wrong," Fowler said.
Vradenburg's letter said press reports quoting FCC officials created the appearance that the commission's review of Turner's takeover bid lacks objectivity. CBS officials, who indicated they stand behind Vradenburg's letter, said they plan to provide both the FCC and Congress with a detailed response to Fowler's remarks.
"Unfortunately, some FCC officials have not been entirely successful in maintaining a kind of neutrality that really is important -- the appearance of objectivity and impartiality in the consideration of public interest arguments that are presented to the agency," Wyman said yesterday in a statement. "From the outset of the current rash of takeover attempts against communications companies, these commission representatives have issued a series of unofficial press statements designed to provide encouragement to potential corporate raiders and their supporters."
A major part of the argument between CBS and the FCC concerns recent articles in The Washington Post. CBS has said it was upset because the articles quoted unnamed FCC officials as saying Turner would receive approval to proceed with his bid on an expedited basis, even before CBS had a chance to present its case to the FCC. Fowler said CBS mischaracterized an article in The Post last Saturday, which he said indicated only that "sources," rather than "FCC sources" had made the comment.
"The Washington Post July 13 article does not refer to an FCC source, and I don't know of such a source myself personally," Fowler said.
CBS officials said yesterday that some of the comments in the July 13 and other Post article this week quoted unnamed "FCC sources."
Stories in The Washington Post have said the FCC planned to allow the Turner bid to move ahead on a faster track, quoting "sources" in one instance and "FCC sources" in others. Turner later withdrew a request that would have expedited consideration of his takeover bid.
Yesterday's hearing was to debate a Senate bill requiring the FCC to hold lengthy "evidentiary hearings" before deciding whether to let Turner proceed with his hostile takeover bid.