Dorgan Hopeful On Winning FCC Debate


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 Tuesday morning.

"We feel we're going to prevail. We have a good chance to prevail," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who is leading the opposition to the rules along 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.

However, many in Congress argued 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."

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.

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. 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.

Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), a proponent of media deregulation who is having second thoughts, announced 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.

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