Congress ignored a White House veto threat yesterday as the Senate voted to block controversial media ownership rules that would allow large media companies to buy more newspapers and local television stations.
How Did Your Senators Vote?
Roll Call 348: S. J. Res. 17;
A joint resolution disapproving the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission with respect to broadcast media ownership
|Not Voting 5
The Senate voted 55-40 to pass a "resolution of disapproval", which would overturn the Federal Communication Commission's new ownership limits. The measure now moves to the House where it is opposed by the Republican leadership. The White House has threatened to veto any attempt to vacate the rules.
Michael Powell, FCC chairman, and his Republican colleagues loosened restrictions on media ownership in June. The decision sparked outrage from public interest groups, the FCC's two Democrat commissioners, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The most controversial changes included eliminating a ban on one company owning a television station and newspaper in the same market. The FCC also increased the "national television cap" to 45 per cent. The cap formerly limited networks - ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox - to owning local stations that, combined, reached 35 per cent of the national audience.
Mr Powell, who has generally refrained from commenting on Congressional action, urged the House to reject the resolution. "This resolution, if passed by the House and signed by the president, would only muddy the media regulatory waters," he said. "It would bring no clarity."
His critics welcomed the Senate move. "This was the Senate's first opportunity to declare its position on media consolidation and it gave a bipartisan No to media moguls and a Yes to the American public," said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, a group opposing the rules.
But critics of the FCC, including Byron Dorgan, the North Dakota Democrat who introduced the resolution of disapproval, concede that the measure may be less successful in the House.
The courts have also put a brake on the rules. A Philadelphia court, which recently ordered the FCC to stay its rules until legal challenges were settled, on Monday decided not to transfer those cases back to a DC court, which appears more sympathetic to deregulating the media industry.
Michael Copps, one of the two Democrat commissioners, said: "The vote in the Senate shows what happens when millions of Americans speak out on an issue of central importance to our democracy," he said. "The commission should act now to reconsider its decision."
© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2003