HITS Daily Double


California Rep. Howard Berman Writes of "Serious Concern" to Ashcroft, Powell
In the latest legislative gambit to address problems in and around the music business, Congressman Howard Berman (D, CA) has written a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft and FCC Chairman Michael Powell asking each to investigate and prosecute, if necessary, radio and live concert behemoth Clear Channel Communications, Inc. for possible antitrust and FCC violations.

"I write to express my serious concern about vertical and horizontal integration in the radio, television and concert promotion industries," Berman begins, immediately specifying allegations that Clear Channel's actions in consolidating these businesses "has negatively affected recording artists, owners of sound recording copyrights, consumers, advertisers, and competitors in the radio and television industries."

Citing press reports and "first-hand accounts by affected recording artists and copyright owners," Berman explains that Clear Channel stands accused of "punishing" artists for refusing to use its concert promotion arm, Clear Channel Entertainment (the former SFX). Such artists who have incurred Clear Channel's wrath, including Britney Spears, have had ads for their concerts "buried" and their songs kept off the company's stations, Berman says, noting that "the consolidation of the radio industry also lends growing support to persistent allegations that record companies often must pay radio stations to play the music of their artists." Philip Anschutz's Concerts West scored the Spears tour business last August.

"These allegations, if true, have obvious, negative implications for consumers, both through higher concert ticket prices and reduced selections of broadcast music," Berman continues, calling for both the DOJ and FCC to "investigate and fully prosecute" any violations of antitrust laws or FCC regulations.

Separately, Berman further expresses his concern over reports that Clear Channel is involved in the "parking" or "warehousing" of radio and TV stations, whereby the company allegedly arranges for third parties or "shell corporations" to buy stations in markets where it has already reached the ownership limit, with the promise to officially buy the stations when and if the FCC removes ownership caps. "These reports allege that Clear Channel has brazenly flouted or inteds to violate FCC rules," Berman writes. "I believe you should fully investigate these warehousing' and parking' allegations, and if true, should prosecute any violations of law. These acts may be illegal in and of themselves, and are likely to exacerbate the negative effectsthat consolidation has had."

In raising his concerns about Clear Channel, Berman is joining a growing chorus of legislators bent on changing things in the music business—or at least the warm glow of media darlinghood that accompanies standing up for showbiz's poor little rich kids. So far, these include fellow democratic Congressmen John Conyers ("payola") and Rick Boucher (questioning the legality of copy-protected CDs), California State Senator Kevin Murray (working to repeal the exception for recording artists in California's Seven-Year Statute). It also comes as labor unions including the AFL-CIO have put their weight behind artists' and managers' lobbying efforts in Sacramento.

Of course, with the good ol' boys of the Mays clan in Texas just about as tight as you can be with the good ol' boys of the Bush clan in Texas, it's a pretty good bet that a Democrat's call for Bush-led regulators to rain on Clear Channel's parade will be met with a less than gung-ho reception.