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TV Watches Obama

Nov 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The prognosticators were wrong about how quickly the media, television and advertising could be impacted by the Nov. 4 election. Instead of the results playing out next year, they started to play out in Congress within 48 hours.
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman’s decision to challenge the dean of the House, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., for the House Energy & Commerce Committee chairmanship quickly raises the stakes for media companies.
Announced last week, a day after Barack Obama won the presidency, Rep. Waxman’s challenge could open the door to a far more activist House on advertising and media issues. It also may revive the Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting should Mr. Waxman win, say advertising and media groups.
The election also may bring changes in U.S. policy on media-ownership limits, television violence and how closely the Justice Department scrutinizes marketing and media cases.
Mr. Waxman, a California Democrat, has offered legislation imposing a moratorium on direct-to-consumer advertising of new drugs. He’s also been a proponent of extensive curbs on tobacco advertising. Ad groups call the tobacco curbs unconstitutional and fear their enactment would be precedent-setting and lead to congressional debates on curbing TV ads for alcohol and food commercials that are aimed at kids.
Mr. Waxman currently is the chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee and in that position has been as a thorn in the side of the Bush administration.
His support for ad curbs hasn’t gone far, in part because it is Rep. Dingell’s Energy & Commerce Committee that writes legislation on health, marketing and the media.
As chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee, Mr. Waxman would play a major role in crafting health- and media-related legislation in the House. How far he’d push on the Fairness Doctrine is less certain.
Mr. Waxman has expressed concern that broadcasters aren’t providing equal time to different political views. But he hasn’t offered legislation, and President-elect Obama has said he’s opposed to reviving the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC-promulgated policy.
A major question for television companies is whether the FCC would reverse the Bush administration’s easing of media-ownership rules. Mr. Obama has been exceedingly critical of recent changes to the rules. He questioned whether the FCC acted before sufficiently understanding the impact that increased consolidation could have on minority media ownership, local programming and local news. Whether he would backtrack on that stance is uncertain.
An Obama Justice Department likely would increase scrutiny of marketer- and media-related deals.
In Congress, the election will change some of the main players for media issues, creating uncertainty.
It’s not yet clear if the Senate Commerce Committee’s chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, will depart to head another Senate committee. If he does, his replacement would be Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Mr. Inouye has held relatively few hearings on media issues, while Mr. Rockefeller has questioned violence in the media and offered legislation that could set some limits.
On the Republican side, where Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has been sitting in as ranking member, the question is whether she or Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, will be ranking member in the new Congress. Ms. Snowe has been critical of media consolidation.

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