Perhaps the most bizarre request of the still young 2014 political season comes from The Weather Channel, which is asking people to call their congressmen and senators to demand Congress intervene in the battle between it and DirecTV.
DirecTV and The Weather Channel have been in a dispute over whether the satellite service provider will carry the NBC Universal-owned channel. Many DirecTV customers nationwide will lose their access to The Weather Channel as early as Tuesday if a negotiation is not reached by then.
Since the negotiations have not gone anywhere, officials at The Weather Channel have turned to asking viewers to contact Congress to ask the legislative body to intervene. The heart of The Weather Channel’s argument is that service with the channel is a matter of life and death for viewers.
“Starting today, The Weather Channel will begin asking DIRECTV viewers and all Weather Channel supporters to call their Representative and Senators in Washington and ask them to help keep this critical public safety resource in the DIRECTV lineup,” The Weather Channel said in a press release. “Given the increasing frequency and severity of weather-related emergencies across the country, access to timely and accurate weather information is imperative for public safety and, therefore, an issue meriting Congressional attention.”
Frequently throughout the press release, The Weather Channel argues that it provides a “critical public safety role.”
“The campaign, aimed at demonstrating the critical public safety role of The Weather Channel, will be supported by a multifaceted direct-to-consumer campaign that will include advertising on The Weather Channel, weather.com and on The Weather Channel’s mobile apps,” it said.
The campaign has involved the creation of a website that can generate letters to members of Congress, a hotline phone number, and even responding to posts by members of Congress like Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) on Facebook. The Weather Channel has also been broadcasting phone numbers for members of Congress on its television station, advising viewers to call in about the issue.
However, there is just one major problem with The Weather Channel’s massive new public campaign for congressional support. Notwithstanding how Americans of all different beliefs probably do not want Congress to pick and choose what is on TV, there is nothing Congress can officially do to help them – even if it wanted to intervene.
Reached by phone late Monday evening, The Weather Channel CEO David Kenny confirmed that there is actually nothing Congress can do to force DirecTV to carry the channel. He said what his company is more interested in doing with this public pressure campaign is to try to get members of Congress to talk about The Weather Channel and large telecommunications industry issues.
Kenny said in a phone interview with Breitbart News:
Listen, I think a member of Congress has to be informed because they work to make sure whether constituents are safe in their district. What they can do is bear in mind as they – I don’t think they can get involved in this specific dispute. I think they can get involved in the broader issue of whether a large distributor should be picking on these independent networks and small networks that provide good service to people, which is inadvertently causing consolidation in the industry. I think there’s a real question about whether they’re suppressing our weather science. There’s a real question about them arbitrarily setting a price well below the market rate and being bullies because of their market power. That goes well beyond us, just looking at the industry structure. The way telecommunications and satellites are dealt with right now is certainly on the agenda. The Telecommunications Act is being rewritten and I think this important context for them in that light. So I think they’re going to look at the public good, instead of looking at this as a business issue itself.
Kenny added that he views his channel as a public service but that he is not trying to push new legislation and does not think new laws would be an answer to his problems.
I think we absolutely serve the public. I think we absolutely have a history of working with NOAA and the National Weather Service and a deep communications platform that took decades to build and millions of dollars, which is a public service. I am not after changing law just for us. That wasn’t the intention. But I do think that there’s a public good because we are used by emergency management organizations at the local, state and federal level, because we are used by military organizations, we are used by humanitarian organizations. They all understand they’re going to lose access to this outlet to communicate this message. But I don’t necessarily think a legislative solution is the answer. It’s pertinent that DirecTV understand the responsibility they have within the law that’s already passed to serve the public. They’re very focused on their football, and the money they’re spending on that, and that’s discounting the rest of their responsibility as a carrier. I think particularly in rural areas, this is where you really only have satellite as a choice, it’s very dangerous if they’re making arbitrary programming decisions against anything that’s news and information related. I think reminding them of their responsibilities is key. We’re not after new legislation.
From its end, DirecTV has launched an alternative service called WeatherNation to provide people with weather news coverage. Even so, a press release from DirecTV states it remains in negotiations with The Weather Channel at this point.
“We remain in discussions with The Weather Channel on how to provide its service to our customers at the best value since people now use so many other ways to retrieve weather-related information,” DirecTV said. “We launched WeatherNation (DIRECTV channel 361) as an alternative to provide 24/7 hard news weather coverage in response to numerous customer complaints that more than 40 percent of The Weather Channel’s programming is dedicated to reality television shows. DIRECTV also offers city-by-city weather coverage on more than 1,400 local broadcast stations and on DIRECTV’s emergency channels in times of severe weather.”