D.C. Council prods Comcast

Legislation demands Nats games on cable


WASHINGTON -- The D.C. Council passed emergency legislation yesterday to try to compel Comcast to begin carrying Washington Nationals games for its area cable customers.

The bill says Comcast must begin broadcasting the games or face the possibility of losing the city-approved agreement that allows it to operate here.

In a statement, Comcast said that the bill is not enforceable because local government efforts to require specific programming "are clearly impermissible under federal law."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Major League Baseball said last night that baseball is still weighing which of three groups will become the Nationals" owner.

"The commissioner [Bud Selig] has not made a decision." said spokesman Rich Levin.

There has been widespread speculation that baseball is poised to make an announcement by tomorrow, when a groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for a new stadium on the Anacostia River waterfront.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported yesterday that a group that includes ex-Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten and Bethesda developer Theodore Lerner has won the bidding to buy the club.

Asked about that and other reports, Levin reiterated that Selig had not reached a decision and that no announcement was scheduled "as of this moment."

Several council members tried unsuccessfully yesterday to put the council on record against the Lerner-Kasten bid. The group has been criticized by council members Marion Barry and Vincent B. Orange Sr. for not having what they consider to be meaningful representation by minorities.

But the council rejected a "Sense of the Council" resolution asking baseball to select either of the two other remaining ownership group finalists. One of those groups is led by Washington business executives Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients. The other is headed by Indianapolis media mogul Jeffrey Smulyan.

The Malek-Zients group has long been the first choice of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, largely because of its local ties.

The mayor, meanwhile, declined to endorse the council's bill designed to pressure Comcast to carry Nationals broad casts, allowing many more District residents to watch games. The bill will go into effect in 10 days, or sooner if the mayor signs it first.

The team's broadcast rights are held by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, owned by Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Comcast says MASN is asking for too much money to carry the games.

"The mayor strongly agrees with any and all efforts to get more Nationals games on TV." Williams spokesman Vincent Morris said yesterday. "[The council's action] may not be the best way to accomplish that, but we hope that a resolution can be achieved soon."

Comcast said yesterday that it would continue to search for a "workable solution."

"We appreciate the attempt by the council to help find a viable compromise, and the recognition of most members of the council that pressure needs to be applied on Peter Angelos in order to resolve this dispute." David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp., said in a statement.

"We share the council's frustration with the current situation but believe that its decision to adopt this legislation may only prolong the unfortunate dispute that is keeping the Nationals off of local cable television."


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