Lobby Group U-Turn Leaves US Media Law Reform On Track

11 July 2003

In a dramatic volte-face, powerful US lobby group the National Association of Broadcasters is withdrawing support for legislation designed to reverse recent media law reform.

The NAB’s unexpected turnaround is likely to scupper attempts in Congress to overrule the Federal Communications Commission’s relaxation of media ownership rules.

This will enrage the lawmakers behind such bills, many of which were drawn up in close consultation with the trade body, one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the NAB had been lobbying members of Congress to support the legislation and welcomed its recent approval by a Senate panel [WAMN: 20-Jun-03].

The broadcasting group initially supported these bills because it opposes the FCC’s decision to raise the TV ownership cap. Previously no single company could reach more than 35% of television households nationwide; the regulator wants to raise this bar to 45% [WAMN: 03-Jun-03].

However, this week the NAB met with representatives from the four big broadcast networks, all of which have quit the organisation in recent years – ironically because of its opposition towards raising the ownership cap [WAMN: 19-Jun-03]. The result of this get-together was that the NAB will now work with the networks to kill the legislation, leaving the FCC’s deregulation on-course.

Observers believe the trade body’s U-turn reflects the concerns of the network affiliate stations that dominate its membership and finances. Many of these broadcasters oppose the raising of the 35% ownership bar, fearing takeover by the major players. However, many also support other proposals from the FCC, such as scrapping the ban on stations owning newspapers in the same market.

Insiders claim the NAB wanted a bill that would reverse the increase in the ownership cap but leave the other reforms in place, and grew angry when lawmakers extended the legislation further than it desired.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff