EchoStar responds to Disney

Jan. 2, 2002 at 7:20 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- EchoStar Communications Corp. on Wednesday accused the Walt Disney Co. of taking a "hypocritical" view of consumer interests and applying pressure to keep its ABC Family channel on the air.

"The current dispute between EchoStar and Disney is simply about EchoStar trying to protect its customers from Disney, a giant media conglomerate that has imposed rate increases well beyond the rate of inflation," EchoStar said in a statement.

Messages left by United Press International with Disney seeking comment were not immediately returned.

On Monday, a U.S. District Court issued a temporary restraining order that will force EchoStar to continue to carry the family cable network as part of its service.

The court will review Disney's application for a preliminary injunction on Jan. 10.

EchoStar claimed that under a 10-year agreement it signed in 1995 it had the right to drop the channel because it was sold to Disney on October and was no longer the same channel.

"The fact of the matter is that ABC Family is not the channel we bargained for in 1995, when it was controlled by Pat Robertson," said Michael Schwimmer, vice president of programming at EchoStar. "Since then, it has changed hands twice, first to Fox and now to Disney."

EchoStar filed suit against Disney last month, claiming the Burbank, Calif., -based media giant unfairly threatened to oppose EchoStar's proposed acquisition of rival satellite provider Hughes Electronics Corp. from General Motors if the companies could not reach terms on a new agreement.

Schwimmer added, "We strongly believe we have the right to determine who we do business with and the general makeup of the content."

The satellite broadcaster dropped Disney's ESPN Classic channel on Tuesday as part of the dispute.

Shares of EchoStar gained $1.28, or 4.66 percent, to $28.75 on heavy volume of 4.3 million shares traded on the Nasdaq stock market. Disney shares rose 73 cents, or 3.52 percent, to $21.45 on volume of 8.5 million shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

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