DISH lodges complaint over Media General-Young Broadcasting merger

Michelle Clancy | 28-10-2013

Hard on the heels of filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission accusing broadcaster Media General of conducting retrans negotiations in bad faith, DISH Network is now lobbying the commission to block Media General's planned merger with Young Broadcasting.

DISH told the FCC that Media General is "forcing" the satco to negotiate a separate deal with Young Broadcasting, which Media General announced in June that it was acquiring. The FCC hasn't yet approved the deal. In a 25 October letter to the FCC, DISH writes that Media General appears to know the terms of DISH's negotiations with Young, even though the negotiations are supposed to be confidential.
"What does Media General know about the Young terms and how does Media General know it?" DISH said. "It also raises the important question of whether Media General and Young are coordinating Media General's negotiations with DISH."
DISH is asking that Media General and Young provide all information about their retrans negotiations to the FCC.
"If this information proves the merger to be primarily a device for achieving higher fees, the commission should designate it for a hearing," DISH added. "At a minimum, the commission should condition the proposed merger on baseball-style arbitration and a standstill provision in the event of retransmission impasses."
Media General's 18 stations in 17 markets have been blacked out to DISH subscribers since 1 October when the two parties could not agree to terms on a new carriage pact. DISH filed an FCC complaint, asking for intercession in the blackout of its TV stations that began at the beginning of the month after the two failed to reach an agreement on retransmission fees.
DISH is accusing Media General of breaking an FCC rule that requires broadcasters to "negotiate in good faith to resolve a blackout," because it took 11 days to respond to the satellite giant's negotiation attempts.
"DISH customers and Media General viewers were without their shows and events for 11 days before Media General would even contact us," DISH executive vice president, Dave Shull, said. "We reacted with a counter offer within hours and Media General has yet to respond. DISH is asking the FCC to act expeditiously to address Media General's bad faith, push them back to the negotiating table and submit to mediation to get programming back to consumers."
Media General's ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Georgia and Alabama pulled their feeds for DISH customers on 1 October. DISH said that it is offering "to match the rates paid by primary pay-TV competitors" and said that Media General "additionally declined to receive the same rates DISH pays to other area broadcasters."