Lawmakers Reach Deal on Media Ownership


The White House and key lawmakers reached a deal Tuesday that would limit TV-station-viewership reach to 39% of households, down from the 45% approved by the Federal Communications Commission in June but higher than the 35% favored by many TV-station groups and their Capitol Hill allies.

The agreement, if it holds, would help Viacom Inc. and News Corp., which are both just under 39%.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who cut the deal with White House chief of staff Andrew Card, said the FCC could not by rule change the 39% limit. Because the cap would be a law and not an FCC rule, companies opposed to it would need a court to declare it unconstitutional, a very high legal hurdle.

The House and Senate both need to approve the agreement, which might not be easy. The House could act Dec. 8 and the Senate in January.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), an outspoken critic of FCC chairman Michael Powell's decision to relax media-ownership rules, promised to fight the 39% deal.

"He has not said specifically what he is going to do. He has said he is going to do whatever he can do," Dorgan spokesman Barry Piatt said.

"The NAB supports the compromise 39% national television-ownership cap that would be written into statute under this agreement," National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO Edward O. Fritts said in a prepared statement. "While a 35% cap would have been preferable, we recognize the political realities surrounding this issue."