- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The Senate voted 55 to 40 yesterday to repeal media-ownership rules that critics said could stifle diversity in news and entertainment by placing control of what people see, hear and read into the hands of a few giant conglomerates.

The senators voted across party lines to undo changes to Federal Communications Commission regulations that govern ownership of newspapers and television and radio stations. The FCC adopted the rules June 2, but they have been on hold by a federal appeals court ruling.

In approving the resolution, the Senate defied threats of a White House veto. Republican leaders in the House have also vowed to kill the bill.

Still, Senate supporters of the measure said their vote will send a message to the Bush administration, the FCC and large media companies.

“The Senate today said that the public interest was far more important than the special interest. I think it sends a very clear message to the FCC and to this administration that the time has come for them to reconsider this consolidation of power … when it comes to media ownership in this country,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

In June, the Republican-dominated FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to ease decades-old ownership restrictions. The changes included allowing a single company to own TV stations reaching nearly half the nation’s viewers and broadcast stations and a newspaper in the same market.

Executives at large media companies said the changes were needed because the old regulations hindered their ability to grow and compete in a market altered by cable television, satellite broadcasting and the Internet.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, a Republican, said the resolution the Senate adopted would “only muddy the media-regulatory waters.”

“It would bring no clarity to media regulation, only chaos. It would create perverse results, such as a return to looser radio rules permitting greater consolidation. This is a harm the FCC’s new media rules were designed to avoid,” he said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, opposed the resolution as too broad and said its prospects of succeeding are “minimal at best.”

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where “it’s dead on arrival,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

The senators chose an unusual legislative vehicle to try to overturn the rules. To succeed, the resolution — called a “congressional veto” — needs majority approval in the Senate and House as well as President Bush’s signature. If Mr. Bush vetoed the resolution, it would take a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to override.

The Senate’s vote yesterday wasn’t large enough to override a veto, said Mr. Bush’s spokesman, Scott McClellan.

“We think that the rules that the FCC came up with more accurately reflect the changing media landscape and the current state of network station ownership while guarding against undue concentration in the marketplace, so we think the FCC did its job,” Mr. McClellan said.

Opponents of the FCC’s rules predicted the House will follow the Senate’s lead and vote to repeal the changes. “Frankly, the administration will not veto this override. They will not expend their precious political capital to go and save the big four television networks,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit group.

Mr. Chester also called on Mr. Powell to resign yesterday, calling the Senate’s vote “a major rebuke.”

A congressional veto has been used successfully only once before. In 2001, the Republican-controlled Congress and White House used it to repeal workplace-safety regulations issued during the Clinton administration.

This article is based on wire service reports.

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