Wednesday, July 16, 2003


A House committee voted yesterday to block federal regulators from letting companies purchase larger numbers of television stations, ignoring a Bush administration veto threat and handing a setback to the commercial television networks.

By a bipartisan 40-25 vote, the House Appropriations Committee voted to derail a new Federal Communications Commission rule that would let a single company own TV stations reaching 45 percent of American households. That new rule replaced a 35 percent limit, which has been favored by smaller broadcasters and an amalgam of groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to consumer advocates.

The committee’s approval of the provision, which was attached to a spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments, breathed new life into an effort by congressional opponents to undo the June 2 FCC decision. Separate House and Senate bills to thwart the new FCC have bogged down, having run into opposition from pivotal committee chairmen.

Even so, with the White House threatening a veto, House Republican leaders backing the administration and continued opposition from the major commercial broadcast networks, the prospects for the provision approved yesterday were not clear.

Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and sponsor of the amendment, cast it as an attempt to keep national corporations from dictating what will be aired on local television stations. He and others complained about broadcasts of Victoria’s Secret models and other programming they said was unsuitable for young children.

“I don’t want ownership factors to get in the way of districts like mine from being able to preserve their own cultural attitudes,” Mr. Obey said.

Supporters of the new FCC rules said they reflected the growing competition that large network broadcasters face from cable and satellite television and the Internet.

Blocking those rules won’t change the programming, they said.

“It doesn’t matter whether they’re owned by a guy in that town or a conglomerate,” said Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican.

Mr. Obey’s amendment did not affect other parts of the FCC decision that ended many of the prohibitions against a single company owning newspapers and broadcast stations in the same community.

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