LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - As the carriage fight between Fox News Channel and Dish Network stretches into its second week, Dish Network chief Charlie Ergen is blaming an "extortion" attempt by Fox for the impasse that led to a blackout in the early hours of Dec. 21.
In a video message posted Dec. 24, Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen (pictured) asserts that the crux of the carriage dispute involving Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network involves the effort by parent company 21st Century Fox to seek a new deal for an "unrelated" channel that would have tripled the rates paid by Dish for that channel. It's unclear which channel Ergen is referring to but it's believed to be either FXX or Fox Sports 1, the latest channel relaunches in the 21st Century Fox portfolio.
In a video message posted late on Dec. 24, Ergen emphasized that Fox News was being "held hostage" to a demand for carriage fee hikes for an "unrelated channel." Ergen claimed Fox was seeking fee hikes despite the fact that Dish's contract for the other channel "would not have expired for some time."
"Ironically, Fox News would be the first network to decry this kind of dealmaking," Ergen said in the vidclip. "There's nothing about this extortion attempt that was fair or balanced."
Ergen emphasized that he believes "it's important for Dish to fight in these situations" because "it is you the customer who would ultimately pay the price" for a carriage fee hike.
In a statement, Fox responded by noting the high volume of carriage fights that Dish has been involved with in recent months, including blackouts involving CBS and Turner Broadcasting channels.
Dish and Fox have been at odds over who is to blame for Fox News going dark in the wee hours of Dec. 21. Fox News maintains that Dish pulled the plug, while Dish insists that Fox News would not agree to a short-term extension amid negotiations on the night of Dec. 20 to avoid a blackout.
"Since Dish dropped Fox News, Dish has focused on shifting blame instead of getting Fox News back on the air. But the facts speak for themselves - Dish has blocked more than 10 channels in the last six months alone," Fox News said in a statement Friday. "We continue to work on resolving this situation, but until Dish is responsive, we are unable to update you on when Fox News will be available."
Fox News has the kind of engaged fan base that has flooded Dish Network with calls and emails since the channel went dark on the satcaster. By Fox News' count, more than 178,00 calls of complaint have been registered with the toll-free line Fox established for the Dish fight, along with 140,000-plus emails.