Short Takes: June 5, 2003
New Vote Announced for Media Ownership News

The Senate Commerce Committee has announced a vote June 19 on legislation that could undo at least part of the Federal Communications Commission's recent relaxation of its media ownership rules.

Under the FCC's action, a single company for the first time would be permitted to own up to three TV stations, a daily newspaper, eight radio stations and the cable TV system in larger markets. Critics allege that the agency has run afoul of the public interest by giving media conglomerates too much new leeway to consolidate.

The bill slated for the committee vote, introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, would set in legislative concrete an agency rule that used to bar broadcasters from owning TV stations reaching more than 35 percent of the nation's TV homes. FCC Republicans raised the cap to 45 percent in their controversial vote Monday on the ownership regulations.

At hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee today, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he plans to amend the legislation to overturn other parts of the FCC's media ownership deregulation. Sen. Dorgan called the FCC's action "wrong-headed and destructive."

In addition, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., made clear that he will seek to derail the FCC's deregulation moves with a rider on an appropriations bill if other legislative efforts to thwart the FCC fail. "The FCC with this order has turned the people's public interest commission into an instrument of corporate greed," Sen. Hollings said, adding that he believes FCC Chairman Michael Powell used "spin and fraud" to try to sell the deregulation.

Said Mr. Powell, at the Senate hearings, "The package of changes, in my opinion, are modest. ? We did our job, and we did it well -- with professionalism, rigor, and with the public interest at the forefront of our minds."

The FCC's decision also came under attack from leading Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who vowed to introduce a special Senate resolution that could overturn the agency's rulings.

Added Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., "This decision was a case of democratic malpractice. ? I am glad to see a bipartisan push in Congress to remedy this mistake, and I look forward to a solution that modernizes our media ownership rules without selling out our democracy." (