U.S. Senate knocks out FCC media ownership plan

The U.S. Senate has voted to nullify the FCC’s new ruling that allows media companies to own a newspaper and a television station in the same market. The action was taken on a “resolution of disapproval” by voice vote last Thursday evening.

Sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, and 26 other senators, the action was supported by both Democrat candidates for president, Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. The House is considering a similar measure.

The FCC action opened a “gaping loophole for more mergers of newspapers and television stations across the country,” Dorgan said. Sen. Obama said “the Senate stood up to Washington special interests by voting to reverse the FCC’s disappointing media consolidation rules that I have fought against. Our nation’s media market must reflect the diverse voices of our population, and it is essential that the FCC promotes the public interest and diversity in ownership.”

Democrat FCC commissioner Michael Copps, an FCC critic of the Republican majority’s media ownership position, praised the Senate’s action. “The Senate spoke for a huge majority of Americans tonight by voting to overturn the flawed FCC decision gutting our long-standing ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership,” he said. “The Senate has struck a blow for localism and diversity in a media environment crying out for more of both.”

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told the Associated Press that he was “disappointed with the Senate’s action” and would recommend to the president that he veto the bill.

The FCC decision allows one company to own a newspaper and a broadcast station in the nation’s 20 largest metropolitan areas. The TV station may not be among the top four in the market, and post-transaction, at least eight independent media voices must remain. The rule replaced an outright ban on cross-ownership.