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Dorgan Offers Resolution of Disapproval, Challenges FCC Ownership Rule Rewrite

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is making good on his threat to try overturning the Federal Communications Commission’s new media ownership rules if Chairman Kevin Martin pushed forward with them.

Ripping the FCC’s Dec. 18 approval of the new rules as “arrogant” and “in disregard of the public interest,” Sen. Dorgan on Wednesday introduced a formal “resolution of disapproval.” The move likely sets up House and Senate votes on the new ownership rules in coming weeks.

Sen. Dorgan’s resolution is co-sponsored by 13 senators including Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Kerry, as well as Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

While the FCC approved the new ownership rules in December, it formally issued them just last week. The rules’ main change would allow local newspaper owners to buy TV stations in their towns.

Mr. Martin had touted the change as a narrow response that is limited in scope. The FCC didn’t ease regulations to allow media companies to own more stations in a market, despite pleas to do so.

Consumer groups say the changes have far broader implications. Last week they asked the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to overturn the FCC’s action. That court overturned the FCC’s last attempt at setting rules.

The National Association of Broadcasters, suggesting the rules didn’t go far enough to ease limits, on Tuesday night filed its own appeal in the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Appeals of some of the FCC’s rules also have been filed by Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Co.

Sen. Dorgan and legislators from both parties had strongly urged Mr. Martin to delay a vote, suggesting the agency was acting prematurely before it had the necessary facts. They said the FCC hadn’t yet fully examined the potential impact media consolidation could have on the amount of local programming in a market or its potential impact on the number of stations held by women and minorities.

Sen. Dorgan said Wednesday that he still feels the FCC acted prematurely and at the behest of corporate interests rather than the public interest.

“This is about galloping concentration in the media,” he said. He accused the FCC of turning from guardians of the public airwaves into boosters of competition at any cost.

“They are shaking the pom-poms,” he said.

Aides to Mr. Martin did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Sen. Dorgan is acting under rarely used authority that allows Congress to act to overturn agency rulemakings within 60 congressional working days. Action to overturn the FCC would require votes by the House and Senate as well as the president’s signature.

Sen. Dorgan mounted a similar bid to overturn the FCC in 2003 after then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell offered a broad rewrite of FCC ownership rules. The Senate voted to overturn the rule, but the House, then under control of the Republicans, never voted. The rule rewrite eventually was overturned by an appellate court.

A House vote is more likely this year, but any congressional action could face a presidential veto.

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