Bipartisans Bushwhack FCC’s Relaxed Media Ownership Rules

18 July 2003

Last month’s decision by the Federal Communications Commission to allow Big Media to get bigger encountered its heftiest setback since the FCC vote on June 2.

On Wednesday the Congress House Appropriations Committee gave the thumbs-up to a budget amendment that will obstruct major broadcasting companies from laying hands on yet more TV stations. Before the new rules, ownership was limited to 35% of national reach – now it has been hiked to 45%.

The vote is a defeat for FCC chairman Michael K Powell, the presidential appointee who bulldozed through the rule changes. It also administered a symbolic knuckle-rap to the House's Republican leadership and the Bush administration, all of which were gung-ho in favor of the rule changes.

The amendment was passed by 40 votes to 25, enabled by the defection of eleven Republicans. To all intents, the amendment blocks the FCC from implementing the liberalization of broadcast media ownership.

But although the battle may have been won, the war is far from over. “[The] president's senior advisers would recommend a veto” if a bill including the amendment ever gets to the presidential desk, promised a White House spokeswoman Wednesday evening.

Last month in the Senate, where opposition to the new FCC rules is said to be even hotter than in the House, a largely bipartisan group of the Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation that would not only restore the 35% cap but would also raise the bar for companies owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same market.

But “the fight is far from over,” promised a North-facing lieutenant for Louisiana representative Billy Tauzin, Republican chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and one of the commission's most vocal congressional champions. “Many of the [old] rules simply don't make sense in a 21st century marketplace,” said the henchman.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff