Senate Panel Passes Possible FCC Overide

In a bipartisan backlash against a key part of the FCC's June 2 rulings on media ownership, the Senate Commerce Committee passed a measure that would spike the commission's raising of the nationwide broadcast ownership cap from 35 to 45 percent and largely reverse its key ruling on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership.

Sponsored by Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, the measure passed the panel on a voice vote.

The measure would not change the new television duopoly rules, but it would forbid the "grandfathering" of stations that exceed the 35 percent cap, meaning that Fox and CBS would have to sell off stations if the bill, S. 1046, were enacted.

Even if the measure passes the full Senate, it could face a tougher fight in the House, where Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has voiced support for the FCC's 3-2 ruling.

The committee will take up the FCC's reauthorization package on June 26; one provision would have the commission conduct its review of media ownership only once every five years, instead of every two years as ordered in the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who spearheaded opposition to the June 2 rulings, welcomed the Commerce Committee action and called on the commission to stay its decision until "elected representatives complete their deliberations on media concentration."

Copps warned the FCC of awakening a "sleeping giant-the American people."

"Now, just 17 days later, and even before the final Commission item is out the door, the people's representatives on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation have rolled back the Commission's 3-2 decision," he said in a statement.

"This strong and bipartisan Committee action should flash the orange light of 'slow down and prepare to stop' for those media companies rushing to buy, sell or swap stations all across America."

The vote was a mixed bag for NAB, which supports the ownership rollback to 35 percent, but supports the newspaper-cross ownership ban.

"NAB is pleased the Senate Commerce Committee voted to roll back the national television ownership cap to 35%. However, the bill also adopts provisions that reinstate the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban and require radio companies to divest legally acquired stations. Consequently, NAB will strongly oppose this legislation," said NAB president/CEO Eddie Fritts.