Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Approps May Vote To Block FCC Cross-Ownership Rule

From David Hatch at CongressDaily

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to approve provisions Wednesday that effectively block the FCC's controversial relaxation of its media ownership rules, forcing newspaper and broadcast opponents to fight another day. The language would bar the agency from using its funds to implement the rule change, which permits the consolidation of newspaper and broadcast properties in the nation's top 20 media markets and in smaller cities under limited circumstances. Both industries have launched a coordinated effort to convince committee members to remove the restriction, inserted by House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., during his panel's markup last week. The newspaper and broadcast industries would be forced to seek a remedy on the House floor or during conference negotiations on the spending bill if the section survives Wednesday's full committee markup. The language is part of a larger effort by members in both chambers to rescind the rule change, approved by the FCC's three Republican members in December. In May, the Senate easily cleared a "resolution of disapproval" authored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., that would nullify it, and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., has introduced a House counterpart.

"The modest step that the FCC took should not be upset," said John Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, which is playing a lead role in the lobbying blitz. "It was a policy decision that was made after years ... of study, of field hearings," he said in an interview. Opponents are questioning the germaneness of attaching the provisions to a spending bill. "This looks to me like a committee not with jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission making what is in essence a policy decision," Sturm argued. Serrano is not a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has primary responsibility for regulating the communications sector, although he insists he has jurisdiction because his panel oversees the FCC's budget.

In a letter Thursday to Appropriations Chairman David Obey, Sturm outlined the NAA's arguments. "An amendment restricting the FCC from implementing its new rule would make it that much harder for newspapers to compete in a hyper-competitive media market while so-called 'new media' has the good fortune to flourish unencumbered," he wrote. He also noted that the FCC sought five years ago to lift the ban in the top 170 markets. But at the markup, Serrano said he believes "the loosening of media consolidation rules is detrimental to the goals of diversity in ownership and viewpoints, as well as to localism and independence in the news media." The National Association of Broadcasters is keeping a lower profile on the issue as newspapers -- many of which are struggling financially and downsizing -- play up their challenges.

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