- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

From combined dispatches

A bipartisan group of 35 U.S. senators introduced legislation yesterday to override a decision last month by the Federal Communications Commission to loosen restrictions on media ownership.

The FCC last month voted to ease ownership restrictions that some called outdated in an era of fast-changing technology — despite complaints that the action would concentrate media power in a few hands.

The changes would lift the national broadcast “cap” — or reach of any single company — to 45 percent of the national market from 35 percent, and let TV, radio and newspaper companies buy each other more freely.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted last month to overturn the FCC decision, and to reinstitute the 35 percent cap and limit cross-ownership deals in all but the smallest markets.

Feeling the need for a more emphatic expression of their displeasure and hoping to force a speedy Senate vote on the matter, the senators agreed to sponsor the one-paragraph resolution. It says that “Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to broadcast media ownership.”

Lawmakers said at a press conference they hoped to bring the matter to a vote by the end of the month.

“I think that the FCC in this case clearly made a decision that’s going to lead to more concentration, less diversity, fewer choices in the opportunity for people to view or hear or read … the news,” said Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, one sponsor of the resolution.

The relatively unusual tactic of introducing a resolution means that the FCC-rules changes will come up for a quicker-than-usual vote before the full Senate, possibly as early as the end of the month.

“It’ll force the FCC to redo it. It doesn’t leave you without any rules, it just says … we disapprove of these rules, and the FCC has to do it again and get it right,” said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat.

“We are moving to roll back one of the most complete cave-ins to corporate interests I’ve ever seen by what is supposed to be a federal regulatory agency,” Mr. Dorgan said.

Twenty-eight Democrats and seven Republicans, including Mr. Lott of Mississippi and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, signed the petition. Under the rarely used 1996 Congressional Review Act, which was pushed by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, only 30 senators’ signatures are needed to force a full Senate vote, Mr. Dorgan said.

The FCC, led by Chairman Michael Powell, approved rules June 2 that make it easier for companies such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to acquire newspapers and TV stations. The rules, which were opposed by groups as disparate as the Consumers Union and National Rifle Association, got more than 1 million letters of criticism from individuals.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment. Mr. Powell has said the new rules adapt to a media landscape that now includes competition from the Internet, hundreds of cable operators and satellite broadcasters.

“The sponsors have a good chance of getting it passed in the Senate,” said former Rep. Thomas Bliley, Virginia Republican, who was House Commerce panel chairman from 1995 to 2001. “But I don’t see anything passing the House because of opposition from the leadership and the fact it’s not that much of a hot-button issue out there.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, is leading the other Senate push to roll back the FCC media-ownership proposal. The Senate Majority Leader, Tennessee Republican Bill Frist, has not said when the full Senate would consider the panel’s bill, if at all.

“The McCain committee legislation could sit on the calendar forever, if Frist didn’t want to bring it to a vote,” said Mr. Dorgan’s spokesman, Barry Piatt. “But the full Senate has to consider our congressional veto.”

The Senate is likely to consider the resolution by September, Mr. Piatt said. If the Senate passes the veto, it automatically goes to the full House for a vote, he said. President Bush, whose administration has endorsed the FCC rules, would have to sign the congressional veto for it to become law.

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