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October 17, 2003 Friday Home Edition
Federal regulators Thursday asked News Corp., controlled by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, and Hughes Electronics Corp. to provide more documents related to Murdoch's planned $6.6-billion purchase of the DirecTV satellite service from Hughes.
The Federal Communications Commission is seeking papers involving programming equipment and service discounts offered by Hughes related to Walt Disney Co. in the first half of 2000.
Disney owns the ESPN sports cable network, which is carried on DirecTV, the largest U.S. satellite television provider.
Cable companies such as Comcast Corp. that compete with DirecTV have said they were concerned that the merger would give News Corp. too much market power in producing and distributing programming, including sports.
The cable operators have said News Corp., which is acquiring a 34 percent controlling stake in El Segundo-based Hughes, might raise rates it charges cable distributors for its own sports channels such as Fox Sports.
Jeff Chester of the nonprofit Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer advocacy group, said the FCC request was not broad enough. "Grocery lists are more elaborate than this," he said.
FCC spokesman David Fiske declined to comment.
Other documents sought by the FCC included copies of the affiliation agreements between News Corp. and licensees of 10 broadcast TV stations in California, New York and other states. This is the second document request in the case by the agency.
Blair Levin, a Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. analyst who was FCC chief of staff, said he expected regulators to approve the merger near the end of the year. News Corp. President Peter Chernin has made the same prediction.