Local News

House Committee Votes To Block FCC From Easing Ownership Limits

Posted July 16, 2003

— A House committee voted Wednesday to block federal regulators from letting companies purchase larger numbers of television stations, ignoring a Bush administration veto threat and handing a setback to the commercial television networks.

By a bipartisan 40-25 vote, the

House Appropriations Committee

voted to derail a new

Federal Communications Commission

rule that would let a single company own TV stations reaching 45 percent of American households.

That new rule replaced a 35-percent limit, which has been favored by smaller broadcasters and an amalgam of groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to consumer advocates.

Rep. David Price, D-Chapel Hill, reportedly was a key figure in engineering the reversal.

"The passage of this amendment is a critical step forward in our fight to protect localism, diversity and competition in our media," Price said. "Today's vote is further evidence of the widespread opposition to the FCC's deregulation from both sides of the aisle and from across the country.

"Since the FCC has refused to heed this national outcry, we in Congress must press this issue in a manner that serves the public interest -- not big companies in search of a profit."

The Appropriations Committee's approval of the provision, which was attached to a must-pass spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments, breathed new life into an effort by congressional opponents to undo the June 2 FCC decision.

Separate House and Senate bills to thwart the new FCC have bogged down, having run into opposition from pivotal committee chairmen.

Even so, with the White House threatening a veto, House Republican leaders backing the administration and continued opposition from the major commercial broadcast networks, the prospects for the provision approved on Wednesday were unclear.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., sponsor of the amendment, cast it as an attempt to keep national corporations from dictating what will be aired on local television stations. He and others complained about prime-time broadcasts of Victoria Secrets models and other programming they said was unsuitable for young children.

"I don't want ownership factors to get in the way of districts like mine from being able to preserve their own cultural attitudes," Obey said.

Supporters of the new FCC rules said they reflected the growing competition that large network broadcasters face from cable and satellite television and the Internet. Blocking those rules won't change the programming, they said.

"It doesn't matter whether they are owned by a guy in that town or a conglomerate," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas.

Obey's amendment did not affect other parts of the FCC decision that ended many of the prohibitions against a single company owning newspapers and broadcast stations in the same community.

Prior to approving the amendment, the committee by voice vote killed an effort to broaden it by also blocking the part of the FCC ruling having to do with joint newspaper-broadcast ownership.

The sponsor of that amendment, Rep. Anne Northup, R-Ky., said she wanted to contain the expansion of all media organizations, not just television networks.

Obey said her proposal, if approved, would have spelled the defeat of the entire amendment by increasing the number of groups -- and lawmakers -- opposed to it.

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