Channel 3’s FCC complaint tries to bite but lacks teeth

Tune into TOTV.

That’s Ticked-Off Television — as in stations ready for anger-management counseling or a Xanax prescription.

“Nina-gate” had already jacked up the market’s blood pressure when, earlier this month, Channel 3 sent it skyrocketing by filing a complaint now before the Federal Communications Commission, charging channels 5, 8 and 13 with peddling airtime to an advertiser and camouflaging it as news. All deny the accusations, Channel 8 defiantly with a counterfiling defending themselves.

Double hullabaloos sparking nationwide industry gossip and debate. Ain’t we got fun?

Per the latter: Last spring, as Chrysler declared bankruptcy, Channel 3 rejected a proposed ad buy from Arrowhead Advertising on behalf of United Dodge Chrysler Jeep for their liquidation sales, balking at an alleged demand for news coverage to go beyond just commercial time.

Channel 3 claims competitors bit at the offer, violating FCC “payola/plugola” rules by airing it as objective news without disclosing to viewers that coverage had been bought. An e-mail included in the filing indeed proves Arrowhead attempted to make the scuzzy deal Channel 3 spurned — but they have no similar e-mails between Arrowhead and competing sales departments proving their rivals did make the back-scratching deal.

That leaves Channel 3 with a proverbial smoking gun aimed straight at Arrowhead, but only smoldering presumptions to fling at competitors based on transcripts they submitted of rivals’ (admittedly suspicious) car-sale stories and a willingness to deduce guilt via the ol’ if-it-quacks-like-a-duck theory.

A case built on what Channel 3 didn’t agree to, rather than proof of what the others did agree to. The complaint even calls them “apparent” violations, a tad short of being caught with your hand in the payola jar.

In legalese: Bupkis. (Yiddish. Look it up.)

News sometimes creates positive spin. Chrysler’s bankruptcy and unusual car deals were legit news, with a byproduct of sounding like carnival-barking sales pitches. Or so they can argue.

FCC fines seem unlikely over unprovable charges.

Why file this pile of innuendo? Channel 3’s tossing grenades into enemy newsrooms, announcing their overall advance across the Vegas TV battlefield.

They’ve dumped the condescending “Watching Out For You” slogan. They’ve rebooted an extra newscast, producing one weeknights on KTUD (Channel 25/Cox Cable 14). They’re experimenting with more in-depth segments, bringing aboard ex-Las Vegas One anchor Jeff Gillan, respected for that approach, as assistant news director. On Monday, another half-hour (at 4:30 a.m.) gets tacked onto “Wake Up With The Wagners.”

News chief Bob Stoldal publicly floated the idea of a sports call-in show and it’s not unreasonable to presume that business, political or lifestyle shows might materialize.

Most aggressive? They actually sicced the government on their rivals. Collectively, it’s a bugle call for a serious assault on SQTV (Status Quo Television).

And enough to encourage competitors to pop a Xanax.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at or 702-383-0256.

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