By: Alan Fram, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Leading Republicans hope a Bush administration veto threat will help them derail a congressional drive against new, eased federal limits on how many television stations companies may own.
The Republican-dominated House was poised to approve legislation on Wednesday that would block a Federal Communications Commission decision to let companies own TV stations serving up to 45% of the nation’s viewers. The current ceiling is 35%.
With programming power and many billions of dollars at stake, the battle has pitted the big broadcast networks against smaller station owners and an array of groups from the Christian Coalition to the Consumer Federation of America.
The biggest beneficiaries of the FCC’s June 2 ruling would be Viacom Inc., which owns the CBS and UPN networks, and News Corp., owner of Fox. Due to mergers and acquisitions, both already exceed the 35% limit.
Opponents of the FCC decision said it would give giant broadcast corporations too much clout, at the expense of communities and a diversity of voices.
The new FCC rules “would make Citizen Kane look like an underachiever,” Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Tuesday, referring to the 1941 film about a plutocratic media magnate. “It’s too much.”
Supporters of the FCC rule said the older, tighter limits ignore a high-tech era in which cable and satellite TV, plus the Internet, have intensified the competition they face. And they said that with even the largest networks owning less than 3% of the nation’s 1,300 broadcast stations, the clout of the networks was being exaggerated.
“You’d think the networks own them all,” said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., an FCC supporter and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Even so, short of support and eager to prevent FCC opponents from using a House roll call to show their strength, GOP leaders didn’t even try removing the language from the bill. Instead, they said they would seek to kill it when House-Senate bargainers craft a compromise bill later this year.
“It’s easier to deal with it in conference” negotiations between the House and Senate, said No. 3 House GOP leader Roy Blunt of Missouri. “You take the president’s comments, it’s easier to stop them” at that point.
Hoping to increase their power, some Republicans were seeking House members’ signatures for a letter pledging to vote to sustain a veto, GOP aides said. It would take 145 lawmakers, or one-third of the House, to uphold a veto, which would be President Bush’s first.
Some senators may try including similar language in the Senate version of the bill, which may not be written until the fall.
The provision was included last week in a $37.9 billion measure financing the departments of Commerce, State and Justice next year.
On Tuesday, a White House budget office statement said the new FCC rules “more accurately reflect the changing media landscape and the current state of network station ownership, while still guarding against undue concentration in the marketplace.”
The budget office threatened a veto if “this provision or a provision like it with respect to any one of the other FCC rules” is sent to Bush.
The House bill affected only part of the FCC’s decision.
By 254-174, the chamber rejected an amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., to kill the entire FCC ruling, which he said would impede local media control. The June 2 ruling also would make it easier for companies to own newspapers and broadcast stations in the same community, and to own more than one broadcast outlet in a market.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell and the two other Republicans on the five-member FCC approved the new rules on a 3-2 party-line vote.