Senate Panel To Vote On Media Bill

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Washington – The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote Dec. 4 on a bill that would block the Federal Communications Commission from immediately relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule at its Dec. 18 public meeting.

The bill (S. 2332), sponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), would require the FCC first to complete work on rules designed to promote so-called broadcast localism and by requiring the agency to give the public at least 90 days to review any new ownership rules the agency is planning to adopt.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has unveiled a plan that would substantially relax the newspaper-broadcast rule in the top 20 markets, but foes of media consolidation claim that Martin’s proposals are much broader because he would not make it too difficult to obtain waivers in markets outside the top 20.

The newspaper-broadcast rule, adopted in 1975 and never amended, bans ownership of a daily newspaper and a TV or radio station in same local market. Combinations in place when the rule was adopted were generally allowed to remain in effect.

Dorgan and Lott have for years complained that a handful of large corporations should not be allowed to dominate media ownership in local markets around the country.

Their bill, called the Media Ownership Act of 2007, is going to need rapid consideration by the full Senate and House if it’s going to stop the FCC’s planned Dec. 18 vote. White House opposition could derail the entire effort. One way of overcoming Bush administration opposition is to include the media bill in must-pass piece of legislation, such as funding for the military.

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