Lawmakers Introduce TV Ratings Oversight Bill, Nielsen Cries 'UnFAIR'

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana), along with several co-sponsors, on Friday introduced The FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Ratings) bill --which proponents claim is designed to instill accountability in television ratings, and is aimed at strengthening private sector oversight.

The bill would also hand more power over to the Media Rating Council, an industry association that grants accreditation of ratings services. Burns, who chaired the Commerce Committee hearings on the TV ratings last summer, had crafted the bill following an outcry among some Nielsen clients and other groups that the new local people meter service was inaccurate because of its high fault rates among African-Americans, Hispanics, and large households.

The bill is strongly opposed by Nielsen, which claims the bill will stifle the TV business.

"This bill means more federal regulation of television, more bureaucracy, slower introduction of new technology, higher costs, less competition, and less accurate ratings," said a statement from the ratings company. "It would also violate antitrust laws and transform the MRC into a virtual arm of the federal government."

The Don't Count Us Out Coalition, which is made up of minority advocates, issued a statement in support of the FAIR bill.

"Over the past year, it has become more and more evident that the Media Ratings Council has all the responsibility, but lacks the enforcement authority to hold Nielsen accountable for TV ratings accuracy," said Cynthia J. Rotunno, the coalition's executive director. "There is no mandatory system of checks and balances over Nielsen, and fault rates in existing markets continue to be disproportionately high nationwide, especially among Latino and African-American households."

The other co-signers on the FAIR bill are Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Florida), Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and Sen. George Allen (R-Virginia).

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