FCC looking into WGAE-nets flap

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Leadership of the WGA East on Tuesday applauded a recent request by FCC staff for information from broadcast and guild execs about the composition of certain bargaining units and other issues.

So far, the FCC has contacted CBS and the WGAE regarding such information, related to stalled news-contract talks with the guild. But guild spokeswoman Sherry Goldman said the FCC also indicated that it would contact ABC.

The WGAE's contract with ABC expired Jan. 31, 2005, and its CBS pact expired April 1, 2005. At CBS, one sticking point in the talks involves a proposal that radio news writers from the WGAE be combined with those represented by other unions at a pair of news-radio stations in Los Angeles.

Various elected officials including U.S. Reps. Maurice Hinchey, Diane Watson, Jan Schakowsky and Anthony Weiner have expressed interest in having the FCC check into the WGAE's concerns in the talks, Goldman said. FCC chairman Kevin Martin recently wrote to Hinchey to note that a request for information on the contract talks had been sent to CBS and the WGA.

In a letter to CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves dated Feb. 7, the FCC asked for information regarding various matters related to the contract talks, including one that already has been withdrawn by eye network negotiators. That demand, involving the prospective removal of producers from guild jurisdiction, had been referenced in a WGAE letter to the FCC prior to CBS' removing it from its list of contract demands.

Negotiators at ABC continue to demand the right to remove from WGAE jurisdiction a handful of producers at WABC-TV in New York.

"Please report on this matter to the commission as soon as possible, but not later than 30 days from the date of this letter," FCC media bureau chief Monica Shah Desai wrote in separate letters to Moonves and WGAE president Chris Albers.

"This is a major achievement in our effort to protect news quality as well as for our members at ABC and CBS who have been working under an expired contract for two years," Albers said Tuesday. "We are committed to bringing the public objective, high-quality news. The Writers Guilds are opposed to any attempt by ABC, CBS or any network to fundamentally alter the structure of the newsroom to the detriment of the quality of the news provided to the public."

WGAE executive director Mona Mangan said, "Our voice and our message has been heard, (and) we're eager to hear the outcome of their review."

Said CBS spokeswoman Shannon Jacobs: "We've received a staff-level request from the FCC asking for an update on our negotiations with the WGA. We look forward to responding to the commission's staff in the coming days."

The roughly 450 CBS employees working under terms of the expired WGAE contract include newswriters, editors, desk and production assistants, graphic artists, promotion writers and researchers at network and local news bureaus in New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. About 250 ABC workers out of contract include similar job classes for operations in New York and Washington.
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