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Lawmakers Plan to Challenge FCC Media Ownership Ruling - 2003-06-05


Members of Congress are planning legislative challenges to recent rulings by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) affecting media ownership in the United States. The FCC decisions have provoked widespread debate over the issue on Capitol Hill, and across the country.

Outrage at the recent FCC decisions on media ownership continues, and crosses party lines.

Earlier this week, the commission, which regulates the radio and television airwaves, voted to allow companies to acquire more television stations and newspapers.

This prompted a wave of criticism, including thousands of e-mails to congressional offices, from those who feel the decision will concentrate too much power in the hands of media conglomerates.

The FCC is an independent body, but its five commissioners are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Three of them can be of the same political party. This week's vote was three to two, with the Republican majority winning out, and dissenting members issuing strong criticisms.

Large media companies lobbied in favor of easing ownership restrictions, saying increased competition from cable, satellite and Internet companies made deregulation necessary.

Appearing before a Senate committee this week, FCC Chairman Michael Powell defended the FCC decision.

"The commission does not have the luxury of always doing what is popular," he said. "Thus I must reject the sensatious [sensational] claims that our effort is nothing more than gratuitous de-regulation. I believe we did our job and I believe we did it well."

Mr. Powell says the public interest is not being damaged, telling lawmakers that all major U.S. media networks each own less than three percent of television stations in the United States. He notes that the FCC retained a rule prohibiting mergers between top networks, and tightened rules on radio station ownership.

But efforts are already underway in the Senate to reverse the FCC decision allowing a single company to own television stations reaching as much as 45 percent of the national media audience.

Anger seems more intense in the House of Representatives where lawmakers vowed to introduce legislation to reverse the FCC decision on ownership.

"The American people, regardless of their political affiliation, are outraged by this decision and what is going on with media today," said Bernie Sanders, an independent congressman from Vermont. "During the last several months some 750,000 people, three-quarters of a million people, contacted the FCC and said: 'Don't do this!' Don't de-regulate the media even more and allow a few giants increased ownership over what we see, hear and read."

In his testimony this week, Mr. Powell acknowledged the FCC decisions have already stimulated a nationwide debate on the role of media in American society, something he describes as a good thing.