Senate backs limits on media holdings

From the Associated Press

The Senate voted Thursday night to nullify a Federal Communications Commission rule that allows media companies to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market.

The unusual "resolution of disapproval," sponsored by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and 24 other senators, was approved on a voice vote.

Republican FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin has described the agency's action as a "relatively minor loosening" of media ownership restrictions. The FCC approved the rule on a 3-2 vote in December with both Democrats dissenting.

The FCC decision allows one company to own a newspaper and a broadcast station in the nation's 20 largest metropolitan areas. The TV station may not be among the top four in the market and, post-transaction, at least eight independent media voices must remain. The rule replaced an outright ban on cross-ownership.

Dorgan said the FCC action opened a "gaping loophole for more mergers of newspapers and television stations across the country."

Martin has said any exception to the ownership rule would face a "very high hurdle."

The House also is considering a nullification of the rule, but even if supporters are successful, President Bush would probably reject the measure.

On April 1, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez wrote Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) saying the administration "strongly opposes any attempt to overturn these rules by legislative means" and that senior Bush advisors would recommend that he veto any bill presented to him.

Gutierrez said the FCC's order "modernizes outdated media ownership regulations to appropriately take into account the plethora of news and information outlets that exist today."

The FCC's cross-ownership decision has been met with opposition on both sides. The newspaper industry has complained that the FCC did not go far enough, while activists who want to keep big media companies from getting bigger said the agency went too far.

Among those affected by the regulations is Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV Channel 5 in Southern California, as well as both print and broadcast operations in four other major markets.

To allow Tribune to close its deal to go private in December, the FCC granted it a permanent waiver for its combination in Chicago and two-year waivers for operations in Los Angeles, New York, South Florida and Hartford, Conn.

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