A full-scale inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into the way television networks do business with their affiliated stations and with program producers was suspended yesterday when Congress cut off its funds.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D.-S.C.), chairman of the FCC appropriations subcommittee, told FCC chairman Richard E. Wiley yesterday he would not reconsider his decision to block funding for the inquiry, the first such FCC investigation in 20 years.
"We want an investigation, but by the new chairman," Hollings said. Willey's seven-year-term as chairman officially ended Thursday, but President Carter has yet to name a successor.
In addition, Commissioner Benjamin Hooks is leaving soon to become executive director of the NAACP. Holdings said both vacancies should be filled before the inquiry is begun and, asked if he thought the White House had been too slow in making the appointments, replied, "definitely,"
But, Hollings said, "I didn't do this to jiggle the White House. For 20 years we've been trying to get an investigation going, but there's no use trying to do it with an outgoing chairman."
Wiley called Hollings' decision "very unfortunate" and said, "My primary regret is that we had put together one heck of a staff to do this inquiry. Sen. Hollings has the ability to stop it: I have not publicly criticized him in any way. But I regret his decision. I don't know how soon this thing is ever going to get back on the track."
The FCC inquiry, staffed with experts imported from business and universities, was going to examine how much independence network-affiliated stations actually have in selecting which programs they air, and also investigate the relationship of the networks to the companies that supply programs.
A network opposed petition from Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. initiated the investigation. In addition, independent producers allied with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have filed a petition with the FCC charging that the "program procurement practices" of the three networks are "restrictive" and financially favorable to the networks at the producers' expense.
In a follow-up presentation filed yesterday with the FCC, MPAA president Jack Valenti charged that network TV programming is "tightly controlled by the networks and thus immune to fresh ideas."
Wiley said yesterday he thought his successor would be named "reasonably soon" and said he hoped the new chairman would immediately move to resume the inquiry. Hollings said funds would then forthcoming and suggested that the subcommittee on communications, of which he is also chairman, may be conducting its own investigation into network-affiliated relationships and program suppliers.
Asked if the networks would be delighted with the suspension of the inquiry, Wiley said it would not be proper for him to comment on that.