Local TV stations are throwing their weight behind legislation that would
reverse a change in broadcast-ownership rules adopted by the Federal
Communications Commission June 2.
In a widely expected change, the FCC agreed to allow a TV-station group to
reach 45% of TV households nationally, up from 35%.
The National Association of Broadcasters strongly opposed the change because
its TV-station members fear that a 45% cap would allow the four major broadcast
networks to own more stations and dominate their affiliates.
The NAB Television Board voted June 11 to support House and Senate bills that
would restore the 35% cap.
Both Viacom Inc. (owner of the CBS network and TV stations) and News Corp.
(owner of the Fox network and TV stations) are over the cap. The legislation
would require them to sell stations to get below it.
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has promised to
allow his panel to vote on the 35% cap bill (S. 1046) June 19. Sens. Fritz
Hollings (D-S.C.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) are its chief sponsors.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Sen. Bryon Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the lawmaker
planned to use the June 19 markup to offer amendments intended to repeal
cross-ownership limits relaxed by the FCC.
Under new FCC rules, a TV station and a newspaper are permitted to merge in
any market that has at least four TV stations, and two TV stations may merge in
any market that has at least five stations, although combinations among the
top-four-rated stations are prohibited.
Dorgan's plan could complicate the NAB's lobbying on the 35% cap bill. The
NAB TV Board said it would endorse lowering the cap from 45% to 35% to the
extent that it did not jeopardize deregulation it supported, such as the FCC's
broad repeal of the newspaper-TV station cross-ownership ban and relaxation of
the local-TV-station-ownership rule.