The Republican-led U.S. Senate, defying a veto threat from President Bush, has voted to repeal new media ownership rules that critics say would lead to a wave of mergers and reduce the diversity of viewpoints in news and entertainment programs.
The Senate voted 55 to 40 to roll back Federal Communications Commission rules allowing television networks to own more local stations, and media companies to own television and radio stations and a newspaper in the same region.
The Republican-dominated FCC voted in June to ease decades-old ownership restrictions. The changes include allowing a single company to own television stations reaching nearly half the nation's viewers.
The FCC says the relaxed restrictions are warranted to reflect the growth of new media, from satellite television to the Internet.
Senator Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican who voted against the Senate resolution, agreed. "We have Internet, we have cable, we have lots of opportunities for people to get their news from a variety of sources," he said.
Television networks say the new rules are necessary to allow them to acquire more local stations so they can better compete against cable and satellite television.
But Senate critics, both Democrats and Republicans, say the relaxed restrictions which have been put on hold by a federal appeals court would stifle the diversity of viewpoints in the media.
"It is a threat to democracy itself," said Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the top Democrat in the Senate. "The integrity of democracy depends on an informed electorate. Again, the vast majority of Americans get their news and information from television and their local newspaper. If we allow the limited broadcast spectrum to be controlled by a handful of companies, how we can maintain the free marketplace of ideas?"
The House has yet to vote on the measure. If the resolution gets to President Bush's desk and he makes good on his veto threat, it would take a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override the veto.