Asks attorney general for "everything he's got."
In announcing a settlement (July 25) with Sony BMG regarding payola issues, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer made a clear plea to the Federal Communications Commission to step up regulatory efforts.
"I would encourage the FCC to take a very hard look at whether something that is this pervasive, something that is so corrosive to the integrity of the market place should not merely be investigated and pursued, but whether some of these stations deserve to have their licenses stripped," said Spitzer at the downtown Manhattan press conference trumpeting the settlement. "They know what the law is and they have been disregarding it willfully and pervasively."
The FCC appears to be paying close attention.
David Fiske, FCC director of media relations and a spokesman for out-of-town FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, says "We look forward to taking a close look at the material that New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has uncovered."
Meanwhile, commissioner Jonathan Adelstein says Spitzer has given the FCC "an arsenal of smoking guns" to ramp up federal payola enforcement.
Adelstein says he has asked Spitzer for "everything he¹s got" so that evidence uncovered in New York's pay-for-play probe can be evaluated for possible federal violations.
An outspoken advocate for heightened payola enforcement, Adelstein says an email trail now exists to justify a full-on federal investigation.
Fiske also said the commission is presently involved in "a number of forums" that will look at pay for play practices. One is an ongoing proceeding on whether or not the FCC's sponsorship identification rules need to be tweaked. Another is an ongoing proceeding on whether broadcast consolidation has impeded localism and has allowed companies to engage in anticompetive behavior, including new payola practices.
"These same exact practices are explicitly prohibited by the Communications Act, including criminal violations that would be handled by the Justice Department," Adelstein says. "People haven't been willing to come forward."
"It took an attorney general's subpoena power to blow the lid off a potentially far-reaching payola scandal...Now it's incumbent on us to enforce our rules and conduct a thorough investigation of each of the allegations."
FCC protocol calls for the agency to investigate and act upon filed complaints. Federal payola rules were recently posted on the FCC Web site, along with instructions on how to file a complaint.
Although he expects to receive complaints based on the settlement, Adelstein says the magnitude of potential federal violations warrants an immediate investigation and potential enforcement action.
"What we have here for the first time are emails documenting the reasoning behind this," Adelstein said, referring too materials uncovered by Spitzer. "We no longer have to guess what was in the mindset of people, we can actually see it."
> For full coverage on the Sony BMG / Spitzer settlement visit Billboard.Biz/spitzer.