03.10.2008 12:03 PM
Senators challenge ownership rules in Congress

Calling the FCC’s rewrite of media ownership rules “arrogant” and “in disregard of the public interest,” Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, introduced legislation last week that could stimulate a Congressional vote to overturn earlier rulings.

Co-sponsored by 13 senators — including Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry — Dorgan introduced a formal “resolution of disapproval” to a rule change that would allow local newspaper owners to buy TV stations in their towns. He is acting under rarely used authority that allows Congress to overturn agency rulemakings within 60 congressional working days.

Dorgan said he has commitments from the heads of the Senate Commerce Committee, both Republicans and Democrats, to move a bill by April.

Last week, consumer groups asked the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to overturn the FCC’s action. That court overturned the FCC’s last attempt at setting rules. The NAB, suggesting the rules didn’t go far enough to ease limits, filed its own appeal in the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune also have filed appeals to some of the FCC’s rules.

Late last year Dorgan and legislators from both parties had strongly urged FCC chairman Kevin Martin to delay the Dec. 18 vote, arguing that the agency hadn’t yet fully examined the potential impact media consolidation could have on the amount of local programming in a market. They also voiced concern about its potential impact to limit the number of stations held by women and minorities.

Sen. Dorgan said he feels the FCC acted at the behest of corporate interests rather than the public interest. “This is about galloping concentration in the media,” he said. He also accused the FCC of turning from guardians of the public airwaves into boosters of competition at any cost.

The senator was joined by a large contingent of media activist and consumer groups, all of whom said they would work vigorously for passage of the Dorgan legislation.

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