FCC looks into "60 Minutes" blackout

Wed Mar 5, 2008 4:23am EST
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WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter) - The Federal Communications Commission is investigating a mysterious signal loss by an Alabama CBS affiliate during a "60 Minutes" segment about the state's imprisoned former governor.

The news item concerned allegations that Don Siegelman, a Democrat who is serving a seven-year term for corruption, was railroaded by Republicans in the Justice Department.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin told reporters Tuesday that the agency received "20-odd" complaints about the 12-minute blackout of Huntsville station WHNT-TV's broadcast on February 24. The blackout occurred at the beginning of the broadcast of the 13-minute segment.

"I have instructed the staff to handle this like we do all the other complaints," said Martin, a Republican appointee. "I've asked the staff to send a letter (to the station) with the complaints attached, asking them to respond to it."

Despite claims that a GOP-engineered conspiracy caused the blackout, WHNT said it was caused by a malfunctioning receiver. The station later aired the entire Siegelman item twice.

The "60 Minutes" story suggested Republican politics was behind Siegelman's prosecution and imprisonment, a claim prosecutors deny. It's unclear what action the FCC can take as it has little say on content outside of indecency issues.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

<p>Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin listens to a question during an Industry Insider session with CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 8, 2008. REUTERS/Steve Marcus</p>