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Despite a Congress that is hell-bent on overturning last month's new media ownership rules, an amendment that specifically addressed newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership was defeated in the House last week, 254-174.

Without that amendment, the House then went on to pass an omnibus spending bill, by a vote of 400 to 21, that additionally attempts to reverse some of the new rules handed down by the Federal Communications Commission in June.

Advisors have said President Bush will veto the legislation and it was that veto threat that kept the newspaper rule rollback amendment from passing. Sponsors of the bill realized that though they have broad support to roll back to the 35 percent rule -- which prevents one company from owning more television stations than can reach 35 percent of all U.S. households -- the other five major rule changes don't have as much support.

Congressional leaders indicated late last week that they would try to get the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule reversed later as well, but that including anything but the 35 percent rule in current legislation would not make it veto-proof.

The New York Times quoted Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the chief sponsor of the main FCC rollback bill, as saying that he "opposes everything the FCC. did," but the amendment was putting the bill in jeopardy. "The problem is you have to make intelligent decisions as to how much you can bite off," Obey told the Times.

He added, "We are taking on the media giants of this country, and when you do that, you better doggone make sure you have the votes. This is a killer amendment. It will break the camel's back."

The Los Angeles Times quoted from a report issued by the investment banking firm Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. following the House vote. "We recognize that the White House has issued a veto threat and that there is much remaining uncertainty regarding this legislation, but our best guess at this point is that the 35 percent language will ultimately be enacted," the paper quoted the report as saying.

A huge public outcry about media consolidation has lit a fire under Congress to set about reversing the new FCC rules. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that congressional candidates are never too happy about the amount of flattering coverage they receive from the television stations in their districts.

Further, interest groups on both the right and the left have always pinned many of the ills of the country on big media and groups as diverse as the National Rifle Association and the National Organization for Women oppose the FCC rules.

The initial reaction of Senate Commerce Committee members by passing legislation similar to the House bill six weeks ago was met by political soothsayers and FCC Chairman Michael Powell with a jaundiced eye. They believed that the House would never pass such as bill.

The repudiation of Powell's sponsorship of the new rules is unique in the annals of American politics; the FCC has always been a nonpartisan arm of the government and traditionally the chairman builds consensus on all votes; even before the media ownership rules, it was clear that Powell was going to be unable to build such consensus.

In addition to defending the rules in a statement last week, Powell denied a report in Time magazine that he will resign because of the situation.

Round Two goes to the politicians. It will be interesting to see whether the Congressional trick of hiding the rollback in an omnibus spending bill will deter President Bush from vetoing the legislation (which also handles spending for a number of governmental offices including the Justice Department) or whether the president will leave his commision chief twisting in the wind.
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 28, 2003
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