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  xThursday, July 24, 2003

house nixes fcc media consoldiation rules


Yow! The House has voted to overturn a recent FCC decision to relax restriction on media consolidation. In doing so, the Republican-controlled House defied the Bush White House (gasp!) and prompted a veto threat from the President.
A bipartisan coalition pushed through the measure by attaching it to an appropriations bill to fund the Commerce, State and Justice departments and several agencies, including the FCC. The spending bill was approved by a vote of 400 to 21, despite a veto threat from the Bush administration and objections from the Republican House leadership.

The legislation would prohibit the FCC from spending any money to carry out its decision last month to allow individual companies to own television stations that reach as much as 45 percent of the national audience. The House measure would keep the limit at 35 percent.

If the House language becomes law, it could have significant repercussions for the corporate parents of the CBS and Fox broadcast networks, which own stations that reach more than 35 percent of the country. Those companies could be forced to sell stations in some of the nation's largest and most lucrative markets. NBC owns stations that reach 34 percent of the country. ABC, which has stations that reach 24 percent of the national audience, has room to grow under a 35 percent ownership cap.

The major networks say they need revenue from the cash-rich stations to pay for expensive programming.

Boo hoo. It seems to me that in a free market, expensive programming, if it were any good, would pay for itself with advertising revenue. And anyway, aren't networks running more and more sitcoms and reality shows, which are dirt cheap relative to hour-long dramas?

Update: Via Daily Kos, I note that the NY Times (reg. req.) apparently cited the Olympics and the Super Bowl as the "expensive" programming networks need to subsidize. Kos' comment that those events are subject to bidding ,and that the networks choose to pay -- or overpay -- to air them, and therefore it's their problem, not ours, is spot-on.

Several industry lobbyists said yesterday that they expect the Senate to take a similar approach to the House in amending an appropriations bill to roll back the ownership cap. The lobbyists said they would work to strip the language from the legislation when conferees sit down to reconcile differences between the two bills.

...The House vote would stop the FCC from spending money on its new rule for only one fiscal year. The support the measure attracted may embolden critics of the 45 percent ownership cap to seek a permanent change to the rule.

Opponents of the FCC's action included conservative and liberal public interest groups worried that further consolidation among media companies would lead to more-homogenized programming and make it harder for unpopular viewpoints to be heard. Many also worried that stations would lose their local identities as they became part of huge media companies.

As the House considered the spending bill yesterday, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the effect the FCC's rule would have on local ownership of television stations. L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council, a conservative group that opposes the FCC's action, testified that his members are overwhelmed by the "raw sewage, ultra-violence, graphic sex and raunchy language that is flooding into our living rooms night and day by giant media corporations with no concern whatsoever for community standards."

Yesterday's vote was a setback for FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell. He has argued that the media business has gone through a dramatic transformation in the past 10 years, making it possible for the agency to relax its limits on corporate ownership.

"Our Democracy is strong," Powell said in a prepared statement. "It would be irresponsible to ignore the diversity of viewpoints provided by cable, satellite and the Internet."

Small and medium-size broadcasting companies opposed the FCC's decision to allow the major networks to own more stations. They claim that the networks are able to force them to carry shows they don't want at the expense of local and regional programming.

Let's get this straight -- no one aside from giant media corporations and their lackeys in the Bush Administration wants this ruling. Bush is simply foolish to threaten a veto to preserve a bureaucratic ruling that most of the nation holding any opinion opposes. I predict that he won't, after all, veto it, and that'll give future veto threats about as much credibility as anything else Bush says -- bupkus.

Not that I'd mind that, of course.





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