Ownership rule faces fight


WASHINGTON -- One of Congress' leading FCC critics introduced legislation Wednesday that would undo recent FCC action easing the ban forbidding a company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same city.

The so-called "legislative veto" is being pushed by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. It would rescind the FCC's December decision to allow newspaper-broadcast combinations in the nation's top 20 markets. At the same time the FCC gave the green light to newspaper-broadcast combos in the nation's biggest markets, it gave permanent waivers to the cross-ownership ban in 42 situations and made it easier to win waivers for newspaper-broadcast combinations in smaller markets.

Dorgan said he had a commitment from Commerce Committee chairman Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to report the bill out of committee, and there was a commitment from Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reed, D-Nev., for a floor vote in April. The resolution must be approved by the Senate within 60 work days.

"The FCC says this is a modest compromise, but make no mistake, this is a big deal," Dorgan said. "When nearly half of the people in this country are told that in their cities and towns the media will get the green light to consolidate, they will not be happy. The proposal would also create a greatly relaxed approval process for newspapers to buy TV stations in any U.S. media market and spur a new wave of media consolidation in both large and small media markets."

It was unclear how much support the move has in Congress.

Josh Silver, executive director of the activist group Free Press, said they expected to win in the Senate, but "it's unclear about the House," he said. "Right now we're focused on the Senate."

While the resolution likely will face a veto by President Bush, Silver said approval, even if it was only by the Senate, "would send a strong message" that easing ownership rules is something the public opposes.

Media Access Project, another activist group, also has sued, arguing that the commission did not follow the instructions of the 3rd Circuit Court in Philadelphia, which remanded the rewrite the FCC did in 2003.