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FCC gets caught in crossfire of Fox and Cablevision fight

October 15, 2010 |  4:13 pm

With less than five hours before their current contract expires, News Corp.'s Fox and Cablevision Systems Corp. seem to be more interested in taking shots at each other than trying to strike a new deal that will keep Fox channels on Cablevision homes.

At issue is a new deal for Cablevision to continue carrying Fox stations WNYW and WWOR in New York on its systems, which reach over 3 million subscribers in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region.

Late Friday afternoon, the Federal Communications Commission, which usually tries to steer clear of these fights, encouraged both sides to extend the current deal to Tuesday and accept mediation to resolve the dispute.

But  that's as far as the agency went. Although there were reports that the FCC offered to act as mediator in the dispute, when asked if that was the case a spokeswoman for the agency said, "No." 

Indeed, there seems to be debate between Cablevision and News Corp. as to whether the agency has the clout to mediate such a dispute or force both sides to accept arbitration from a third party.

A Cablevision spokesman said the company accepts the FCC's offer to extend the current deal and added that the operator believes the agency has the power to order mediation. A Fox spokesman countered by citing an FCC statement in a previous programming dispute that said the "commission does not have the authority to require the parties to submit to binding arbitration." 

Congress is also turning up the heat on both companies and the FCC. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) were critical of Fox for not agreeing to mediation or extending the talks. Israel said the FCC should weigh in on the dispute.

On the Fox side, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) sent a letter to the FCC that countered: "The parties should negotiate the terms of their agreement without government influence."

-- Joe Flint

For the record: The headline of this post was changed from "FCC gets caught in middle of Fox and Cablevision fight" to "FCC gets caught in crossfire of Fox and Cablevision fight" to better reflect the content of the post.