Senate Panel ‘Vetos’ FCC Media Cross-Ownership Policy

By Brooks Boliek

Hollywood Reporter, April 24, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday told the FCC to drop dead as far it's media ownership policy is concerned.

Without dissent the panel approved a "legislative veto" that would prevent the commission from implementing new regulations that remove the federal bar to newspaper-broadcast combinations in the top markets and make it easier for the combos to receive approval in the smaller ones.

"If we allow the FCC to relax its media cross-ownership rules, we will be doing the people of America a great disservice," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "Diverse, independent and local media sources are essential to ensuring that the public has access to a variety of information."

Dorgan is a long-time critic of the FCC and a staunch opponent of allowing media properties to come under the control of fewer people. The Senate resolution has 25 co-sponsors including Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

The resolution of disapproval works like a presidential veto, only from the legislative branch. While it could win approval in the House, White House officials have said that President Bush will veto it, and questions have been raised about the constitutionality of the device.

When the FCC approved the rule late last year, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin described it as a "relatively minor loosening" of broadcast media ownership restrictions. The rule won FCC approval on a 3-2 party-line vote.

Both Democrats on the FCC opposed the rule, which replaced an outright ban on cross-ownership.

The Senate panel's action took place as Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. reportedly reached a tentative deal to buy Tribune Co.-owned Newsday in New York. News Corp. owns two television stations in New York as well as the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Martin has said any exception to the media ownership rule would face a "very high hurdle."

On April 1, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez wrote Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, saying the administration "strongly opposes any attempt to overturn these rules by legislative means" and if the resolution were presented to the president, "his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."

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