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Hunting For An Interview

(CBS/The Early Show)
The New York Daily News is reporting today that ethical questions have arisen around the large licensing fee paid by ABC News for footage of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin. The footage ran with Barbara Walters' interview with Irwin's widow, Terri.

ABC reportedly paid between the "mid-six figures" and $1 million for the footage, prompting questions about whether what the network was really paying for was the interview.

"We do not pay for interviews. Period," ABC News spokesman Jeff Schneider told the Daily News. "We paid a fair license fee for hours of exclusive material of Steve Irwin. Compensating rights-holders for their video is something that is a standard industry practice."

Also included in the Daily News piece is a claim that CBS News "offered more. They put $1 million on the table." Katie Couric, the source said, would have flown to Australia to conduct the interview.

I asked Linda Mason, CBS News Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects, about the report.

"We don't pay for interviews," said Mason. "When we get material from people – and the Irwin footage is owned by the family – but it's footage that aired on Discovery. This is not in the public domain. It is owned by somebody, so we would have paid a licensing fee."

Mason disputed the figure in the Daily News report. "[The licensing fee] would be nowhere near a million dollars," she said.

"The truth is, let's say we were doing Steve Irwin and weren't doing the family, but we were doing some other aspect…and we needed the footage, we'd pay for it and we'd license it," continued Mason. "So no, I don't see a conflict there. I do see a conflict when it gets to be a million dollars, yeah."

Is that because a million dollars is such a large figure that it would essentially mean that you were paying for the interview?

"It could appear that you were," said Mason. "I wouldn't make the direct charge."

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