House Votes to Block FCC Media Rule

House lawmakers voted today to block a new
regulation that would allow individual companies to buy up television stations
reaching nearly half the nation’s viewers.

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers voted today to block a new
regulation that would allow individual companies to buy up television stations
reaching nearly half the nation’s viewers.

The provision, included in a
spending bill approved 400-21, would roll back part of a Federal Communications
Commission decision overhauling decades-old restrictions governing ownership of
newspapers and television and radio stations. That June 2 ruling by the
Republican-dominated FCC was a victory for media companies who sought relaxed
rules.

Opponents, from consumer groups to songwriters to small broadcasters,
say the changes could lead to a wave of mergers leaving a dwindling number of
companies controlling what people see, hear and read. They are urging Congress
to roll back all the changes, but the House measure only addresses TV station
ownership.

The FCC voted to allow single companies to own TV stations reaching
45 percent of U.S. households. The House measure would return the cap to 35
percent.

“It’s extremely rare to be able to reverse a regulatory decision that
gives away the store to the big boys,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chief
sponsor of the provision to derail the FCC change.

The fight now moves to the
Senate, where several lawmakers of both parties want to include a similar
provision in their version of the spending bill. Broader rollback efforts also
are being considered.

Top Republicans are hoping that, with leverage from the
threat of a first-ever veto by President Bush, the final House-Senate compromise
bill later this year will drop the provision.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell
defended his agency’s decision before the House vote.

“We created enforceable
rules that reflect the realities of today’s media marketplace,” Powell said in a
statement. “The rules will benefit Americans by protecting localism, competition
and diversity.”

The FCC also allowed individual companies to own more TV
stations in some cities and largely ended a ban on one company owning a
newspaper and a broadcast station in a community.

Michael Copps, one of two
Democrats on the five-member FCC who opposed the changes, told the Senate
Commerce Committee that the new rules “surrender awesome powers over our news,
information and entertainment to a handful of large conglomerates.”

The
committee voted last month for a bill that would undo much of the FCC changes,
including rolling back the ownership cap and reinstating the broadcast-newspaper
cross-ownership ban.

A bipartisan group of senators also have introduced a
“resolution of disapproval” to undo all of FCC’s changes. To succeed, the
seldom-used legislative maneuver would need majority approval in the Senate and
House and the president’s signature.

With resistance from Republican leaders
in the House, the prospects for legislation opposing the new ownership rules had
initially appeared bleak.

“We’ve been facing a total roadblock on doing
anything in the House,” said Gene Kimmelman, public policy director for
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. He said the House vote
meant “that roadblock will be torn apart.”

Many media companies said the FCC
changes were needed because the old restrictions hindered their ability to grow
and compete in a market changed by cable TV, satellite broadcasts and the
Internet.

News Corp., owner of Fox, and Viacom Inc., which owns CBS and UPN,
benefit from a higher national TV ownership cap because deals have left them
above the 35 percent level. If that lower level is ultimately enforced, the
companies could be forced to sell stations.

Smaller broadcasters said a higher
cap would allow the networks to gobble up stations and take away local control
of programming. The major networks wanted the cap eliminated.

NBC lobbyist Bob
Okun praised the FCC decision and called the House legislation “extremely
disappointing.”

On Tuesday, a White House budget office statement threatened a
veto if the final bill contains the FCC provision or something similar. The
administration said the new FCC rules “more accurately reflect the changing
media landscape and the current state of network station ownership, while still
guarding against undue concentration in the marketplace.”

The FCC provision
was included last week in a $37.9 billion measure financing the departments of
Commerce, State and Justice next year.

Author:

News Service: Associated Press

URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0723-07.htm