Senate Moves to Quash New FCC Media Rules

12 September 2003

A ‘resolution of disapproval’, an arcane congressional procedural device, was invoked Thursday by the US Senate in a move to rescind all the new rules introduced by the Federal Communications Commission in its tendentious and narrow June 2 vote.

The resolution, which will be put to the vote on Tuesday, has broad bipartisan support.

Says Senator Byron Dorgan (Democrat, North Dakota): “The FCC’s action was one of the most complete cave-ins to corporate interests I've ever seen by what is supposed to be a federal regulatory agency. The FCC ignored the public in their process. In Congress the public interest will be served.”

But the White House remains loyal to its appointee, FCC chairman Michael K Powell. A statement from on high read: “The new FCC local and national media ownership rules more accurately reflect the changing media landscape and the current state of network station ownership, while guarding against undue concentration in the marketplace.”

But a large (if uneasy) array of bedfellows – advocacy groups ranging from the National Organization for Women to the National Rifle Association, plus lawmakers from both parties and two of the FCC’s five commissioners – are united by their opposition to the new rules.

Other moves are also in train to neuter the FCC’s alleged Big Media-friendly stance. A Philadelphia court has ordered the FCC to put its new rules on ice until a related court case is resolved [WAMN: 04-Sep-03], while the Senate Commerce Committee and the House of Representatives have also approved measures to tie the hands of the FCC over the introduction of its reforms [WAMN: 24-Jul-03].

And a surprising new ally has joined the ranks of those opposing the changes – no less a personage than the powerful Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Senator John McCain. Although he does not support the ‘resolution of disapproval’, McCain admits he has undergone a Damascene conversion.

“I continue to believe in the principle of allowing markets to regulate the way businesses operate,” he said. “But after chairing seven hearings on media ownership and observing unprecedented public outcry, it is apparent to me that the business of media ownership, which can so affect the nature and quality of our democracy, is too important to be dealt with so categorically. As a result, I have come to believe that stringent, but reasonable, limits on media ownership may very well be appropriate.”

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff