US Media Rules: White House Dangles Deal to Avoid Veto

25 November 2003

The White House is decidedly anxious to avoid using the presidential veto to thwart the overwhelming vote by both houses of Congress to block the Federal Communications Commission's lifting in June of the 35% cap on national TV ownership reach to 45%.

President George W Bush is said to be concerned that such a veto in the run-up to next year's elections might tend to look overly friendly towards Big Media and a tad undemocratic.

So few onlookers are suprised at the compromise offered Monday by the Oval Office: a 39% permanent cap on the national television audience reachable by any single network. According to the Wall Street Journal, this "represents a substantial shift by the administration".

The White House has repeatedly threatened to veto any bill from Congress to water down the FCC decision. But following Monday's midnight oil-burning between President Bush's chief of staff Andrew Card and Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ted Stevens (Republican, Alaska), a compromise deal emerged.

Although Stevens has yet to sell the accommodation to Congress, it could satisfy most of the parties on both sides of the fence. Although Viacom's CBS has a 38.8% audience share and Fox 37.8%, they are spared the need to sell off their recently-gotten acquisitions -- acquired in anticipation of a 45% cap.

And Congress could warm to the idea of a permanent ceiling that is exempt from the biannual review applying to all other FCC rules.

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