Senate Panel Rebukes FCC’s Martin

Apr 24, 2008  •  Post A Comment

A Senate committee took the first step toward overturning the Federal Communications Commission’s latest rewrite of media-ownership rules that let newspapers and broadcasters in the same market buy each other.
The Senate Commerce Committee on a voice vote approved a resolution of disapproval submitted by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who warned of “galloping concentration” among media companies.
Senator Dorgan said the measure is intended as a rebuke to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin’s decision to ignore Capitol Hill warnings that the agency hadn’t adequately examined the potential impact the change could have on local programming, minority ownership of broadcast stations or competition.
The FCC did not return a call requesting comment.
Mr. Dorgan said the FCC action “allows much greater concentration” in some media markets.
The committee vote sends the resolution to the Senate floor where a vote is likely in May or June and potentially could affect pending media deals including News Corps’ negotiations for Tribune Co.’s Newsday. The Senate action also sets the stage for a House vote.
Even if Congress passes the legislation, it’s likely to face a presidential veto.
Mr. Dorgan said today he has the votes to pass the resolution in the Senate and was hopeful that President Bush would reconsider a veto threat.
“The president’s popularity rating are below 30%,” he said. “He promises to veto almost everything these days. My hope is that at some point he would decide on an issue like this that he would want to stand with the American people … that he would think better of what the FCC has done.”
The resolution is being pushed as part of a rarely used procedure that lets Congress overturn any new administrative rule of a federal agency if legislators act with 90 legislative days.
Today’s vote marks the second time the committee has tried to overturn FCC rules changes. In 2003, the committee and eventually the Senate voted to overturn rules changes that the FCC, under former chairman Michael Powell, adopted. The House, then under GOP control, never allowed a vote of its members, but an appellate court subsequently threw out those rules.
The new FCC rule would generally allow newspapers and broadcasters in big markets to buy each other, but generally proscribe the mergers in small- and medium-sized markets.
Smaller and medium-sized markets could ask for waivers, and critics contend the rules would open the door to widespread consolidation. Until the change, the FCC had blocked newspapers and broadcasters from buying each other in the same market.
(Editor: Baumann)


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