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School's back in session - time for a pop quiz. You've been assigned to research the legend of King Arthur: Would you call Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer as an expert source?

That's what ABC News did in a recent "20/20" news-magazine segment on the topic. Mr. Bruckheimer, producer of this summer's Walt Disney Company film "King Arthur," was prominently featured on the program alongside historians.

If the weakness of Bruckheimer's grasp of Arthurian lore was obvious, the connection between his movie and ABC television wasn't. Only at the end of the segment did the reporter mention that Disney owns ABC.

The movie producer was included in the show for business reasons, not because he was the most knowledgeable source, acknowledges David Westin, president of ABC News. "It made good sense for us, frankly," he says, "to take advantage of all the marketing and publicity for the movie."

While on air pitches are not new, such overt cross-promotion is a relatively new development as channels work to forward the interests of sister divisions within the same corporate parent. As the tentacles of media conglomerates reach further into many of the programs Americans watch, concern is rising that the content of shows, particularly news programming, is putting the business interests of parent companies before the public interest in getting unbiased information. The impact of "vertical integration" (which breeds cross-promotion) and other issues related to concentrated media ownership are likely to take on greater prominence this fall as an issue on the campaign trail. Congress is also preparing to debate the Telecommunication Act of 1996, which many observers say laid the groundwork for today's mergers.


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