- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

The record needs to be set straight on Wednesday’s House vote that included media-ownership rules. First of all, despite the breathless political commentary and above-the-fold headlines trumpeting the overturning of a June 2 Federal Communications Commission vote, the House legislation was not primarily — or even substantially — a bill about media ownership. What many news programs and newspapers vaguely referred to as “a spending bill” was actually the $37 billion package appropriating funds for the Departments of State, Commerce and Justice. Because the spending earmarked for those departments is of the highest priority, its passage by a vote of 400-21 cannot be considered a victory for those opposed to FCC rule changes.

Out of a 106-page bill that provides $4.6 billion for the FBI, $2 billion for the Drug Enforcement Administration and $841 million for the Small Business Administration — just to name a few popular and important agencies — there is merely one little provision that overturns the FCC’s new 45 percent cap on national audience reach and restores the old limit of 35 percent. It is unrealistic for anyone to believe that such a big bill would be defeated for one provision. House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield had called it a free vote, meaning that members were free to vote for passage of the base bill without crossing Chairman Bill Young or Republican leaders, who oppose overturning the FCC rule change. The majority leadership even instructed members to vote for passage, and let it be known that they planned to get rid of the anti-FCC provision in conference. The White House has provided the cover for them to do so by issuing a veto threat through the Office of Management and Budget.

Many wonderful and nefarious things have come out of middle-of-the-night conference meetings. But given the media avalanche alleging massive popular support for the old cap, nixing this provision behind closed doors could be a more dangerous political maneuver than expected. Certainly, the hysterical reaction against the higher cap came as a surprise. The stridency of the opposition reminds us of the sentiments of the antiglobalists, who fear that international conglomerates are stripping away control from small communities. If Republican leaders don’t address this fear, stripping out the FCC provision in conference could turn out to be one midnight caper too far.

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