07.01.2003 12:00 PM
Senate Committee squares off with FCC over media ownership

The Senate Commerce Committee voted June 19 to reverse the FCC's recent changes to media ownership rules, thereby raising the likelihood of a showdown between the executive and legislative branches over the future direction broadcast ownership will take in this country.

Early in June the Commission voted 3-2 to revise the standing media ownership regulations to allow a broadcast network to own stations reaching up to 45 percent of U.S. TV households, to let a single broadcaster to own up to three television stations in a single market, depending on size and to lift restrictions on cross-ownership of television stations and newspapers in the same market.

Thousands of people sent e-mails and faxes to the commission prior to its vote voicing their concern over the loosening of the ownership rules. Apparently, the Senate Commerce Committee reacted to the public outcry with its action.

While the commission’s close vote changing the rules fell along party lines, opposition to the new rules in the Commerce Committee was bipartisan. Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska joined with Democrat Sen. Earnest Hollings of South Carolina to reverse the FCC loosening.

Although the Commerce Committee bill looks as if it may gain the majority needed in the Senate, it faces stiff opposition in the House where Louisiana Republican Billy Tauzin, head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is likely to oppose the reversal. Tauzin a supporter of FCC Chairman Michael Powell is seen as being in favor of the relaxing of ownership rules.

The Senate Commerce Committee bill would reinstate the prior cross-ownership rules with the exception of the 60 smallest markets where ownership of both TV and newspaper properties would be allowed subject to local regulatory approval. Additionally, the bill sets the upper limit to 35 percent of all U.S. TV households for the percentage of audience a single network can reach with stations it owns. Under the bill, Viacom’s CBS and News Corp.’s Fox Network would be required to divest of some stations to come into compliance.

The bill also requires the FCC to hold five public hearings before acting on any changes to media ownership rules.

For more information visit www.fcc.gov.

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