Members of Congress concerned about media consolidation took no time to
announce a campaign to roll back new broadcast-ownership rules adopted Monday by
a politically divided Federal Communications Commission.
As expected, the GOP-controlled FCC voted along partisan lines to allow ABC,
CBS, NBC and Fox to acquire more stations.
The agency also largely eliminated the 1975 ban on the common ownership of a
TV station and a local newspaper in the same market and liberalized rules to
permit the common ownership of two TV stations in all but the smallest markets
and up to three stations in roughly the six largest markets.
"I do think this is a mistake," said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), referring to
the decision to raise to 45% from 35% the number of TV households a TV-station
group may reach nationally.
Lott appeared at a Senate press conference with Sens. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.)
and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) to castigate the FCC for moving forward despite pleas
not to from many senators, thousands of citizens and the two FCC Democrats,
Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.
"I think this is a horrible decision," Dorgan told reporters, adding that the
commission's move would lead to an "orgy of mergers and acquisition."
All five FCC members are scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce
Committee Wednesday. Lott, Dorgan and Hollings all serve on that panel.
At the meeting, FCC chairman Michael Powell and his Republican allies,
Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin, said the new rules reflected current market
realities not present when many of the rules were first adopted decades ago and
were responsive to court admonitions that the agency had an obligation to modify
or repeal rules that were no longer necessary in competitive markets.
"Keeping the rules exactly as they are, as some so stridently suggest, was
not a viable option. Without today's surgery, the rules would assuredly meet a
swift death," Powell said.
Hollings, Lott and Powell said they had a few options, including passing
stand-alone legislation, amending unrelated Senate legislation, or cutting off
FCC funding implementing the new rules. Bills preserving the 35% cap have been
introduced in both the House and the Senate.
Dorgan pointed to another option, the Congressional Review Act. The 1996 law
allows Congress to veto regulations promulgated by a federal agency. In early
2001, Congress used the law for the first and only time to kill
workplace-ergonomics rules that had been adopted by the Clinton administration's
Prior to the meeting, a small group of protesters gathered outside FCC
headquarters carrying signs that read, "No Media Monopoly," "Black Voices for
Peace" and "Big Brother Meets the FCC." The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Janice
Schakowsky (D-Ill.) were among the few-dozen protesters.