Legislation seeks to block FCC media ownership vote

Legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate that seeks to block the FCC from voting on any new media ownership rules until sometime in 2008. The measure would also require the commission to open a separate FCC inquiry on broadcast localism.

Spearheaded by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, and co-sponsored by several key Democrat and Republican lawmakers, the legislation seeks to stop FCC chairman Kevin Martin from rushing through new ownership rules before the holidays.

Dorgan’s bill — called the Media Ownership Act of 2007 — would require the FCC to first finish its current study on broadcast localism. Then, it mandates a 90-day window for public comment on the localism issue. A second 90-day comment period to follow would be required for any changes to media ownership rules.

Co-sponsors of the legislation include Sens. Trent Lott, R-MS, Barack Obama, D-IL, Diane Feinstein, D-CA, Maria Cantwell, D-WA, Bill Nelson, D-FL, and Olympia Snowe, R-ME.

The FCC was criticized by Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, who said the commission was about to repeat a similar attempt in 2003 to consolidate media ownership. “I don't think Americans are going to accept the excuse of unintended consequences from the ownership changes,” he said at the hearing. "The FCC needs to know that that approach will not stand and Congress is not going to allow it.”

Martin recently said he wants the FCC to vote on new ownership rules by Dec. 18. Though the chairman has not specified changes in the rules that he wants, Dorgan said he is certain that Martin will try to lift restrictions that prohibit cross ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same market.

Though it’s highly unlikely that Congress could pass the legislation before an FCC vote on Dec. 18, the lawmakers hope their aggressive resistance will influence Martin to back off of his aggressive plan.

Martin, on the other hand, wants to push the issue now rather than have it delayed and caught up in the politics of next year’s presidential campaign.