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Dorgan Hopeful on FCC Debate

9/11/2003 10:15 AM Eastern

As the Senate began debate Thursday on a resolution that would scuttle new
media-ownership rules, a lead sponsor was cautiously optimistic about winning
the vote scheduled for early Monday evening.

"We feel we're going to prevail. We have a good chance to prevail on Monday
evening," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who is leading the opposition to the
rules with Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

In June, the Federal Communications Commission adopted regulations making it
easier for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox to buy more stations and for TV stations, radio
stations and newspapers to combine in local markets.

FCC chairman Michael Powell claimed that the old rules -- some of which were
first adopted decades ago -- clashed with court mandates and failed to reflect
media markets awash in content choices provided by cable companies, satellite
systems and the Internet.However, many in Congress, stoked by various business
and consumer groups, reacted strongly, arguing that the FCC went too far and
harmed the prospects of localism, competition and ownership diversity in an area
vital to the functioning of a healthy democracy.

"They just made a mistake here," Lott said. "They did not do due diligence,
in my opinion, to see what the real impact was going to be and see what the
reaction is going to be."

Dorgan and Lott spoke to reporters off the Senate floor about one hour before
Senate debate began.

The Senate debate on Dorgan-Lott is not the first response from Congress.

In July, the House reversed a rule that would allow a TV-station group to
increase its potential audience reach from 35% to 45% of all U.S. TV households.
Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved identical language. Both
measures would expire after one year and do not address rules allowing local
newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 3, a federal court in Philadelphia stayed the entire FCC
order from taking effect while the rules were being appealed.

The Dorgan-Lott resolution, authorized by the Congressional Review Act, would
nullify the entire FCC package, forcing the agency to start anew.

Because of its broad scope, the resolution is opposed by two groups that
favor the FCC's new cross-ownership policies: the National Association of
Broadcasters and the Newspaper Association of America.

Dorgan, however, said he thought he had the votes to prevail.

"It is true that the National Association of Broadcasters, the Newspaper
Association [of America] and others have weighed in very heavily on this in the
Senate and the House," he added. "We think we are going to get to the finish
line."

In a prepared statement, Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain
(R-Ariz.) -- a proponent of media deregulation who is having second thoughts --
announced that he would oppose the Dorgan-Lott resolution mainly because it
would void the FCC's rules without giving the agency guidance on crafting new
rules in a new proceeding.

"If Congress is displeased with the results of the [FCC's] review, it should
legislate a solution, and not just disapprove of the [FCC's] actions," McCain
said.

The White House has threatened to veto legislation designed to block the
FCC's new rules.

"I've already discussed this with the president," Lott said. "He may decide
to veto it. I think that would be a mistake."

Lott added that he and Dorgan would not give up until they overturned the
FCC's rules.

"If he does veto it, the next time he gets it, it's going to be wrapped in a
great big package with a bow on it that would be very hard to veto," Lott
said.

 

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