Media issues tabled on Hill after tragedy

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington, lawmakers are focused almost exclusively on terrorism and possible military retaliation and have temporarily suspended most work on other issues, including media-related concerns.
“The priorities of every member of Congress and every employee of the White House suddenly changed in one horrific moment,” an industry source said privately.
The day after the tragedies, the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, headed by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., postponed a hearing on the transition of broadcasters to digital. At deadline, this and several other planned hearings had not been rescheduled.
The congressman had intended to explore why some television stations are having difficulty meeting the government’s deadlines to convert their facilities, but broadcasters are off the hook for now until the national crisis abates.
“Certainly, our primary focus is to deal with these tragedies, and then we’ll figure where to go after that,” said Ken Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees Mr. Upton’s panel.
“Most issues are going to be put on the back burner for at least a week,” he said, adding, “Some issues may never see the light of day.”
Lawmakers who’ve been circulating a petition to bring campaign finance reform up for a House vote have temporarily suspended efforts to secure the additional nine signatures they need to force a vote in the lower chamber.
Broadcasters oppose provisions in the legislation that would lower the already-reduced rates stations charge politicians for political ad time.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tauzin’s push to bring the so-called Tauzin-Dingell bill up for a floor vote could also be delayed. The controversial measure, which deregulates the Baby Bells to make them more competitive with cable broadband providers, is strongly opposed by AT&T and already faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
The national crisis could make it tougher for Congress to divert some Department of Defense spectrum to wireless phone companies for their next generation of service, called 3G. That in turn might lead Congress to look more closely at diverting some digital TV spectrum for 3G use instead, a source said.
But the tragedy could also have a silver lining for broadcasters by deflecting attention from media violence and allowing the networks to redeem themselves in the eyes of the public and lawmakers, who sometimes criticize them for sensationalizing the trivial.
A staffer with the Senate Commerce Committee, overseen by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., said it was “too early to say” whether a hearing planned for late this month on the senator’s so-called safe-harbor legislation would be postponed. The measure relegates violent television content to late-night hours but is opposed by broadcasters on First Amendment grounds.