WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved a resolution to repeal media ownership rules critics say could lead to a wave of mergers and ultimately stifle diversity and local viewpoints in news and entertainment.
Defying a White House veto threat, the Senate voted 55-40 to undo changes to Federal Communications Commission regulations governing ownership of newspapers and television and radio stations. Those rules already have been placed on hold by a federal appeals court.
“We have to ensure that the marketplace of ideas is not dominated by a few conglomerates at the expense of our citizens and our democracy,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said before the vote.
Opponents have chosen an unusual legislative path to try to overturn the rules. To succeed, the resolution — called a “congressional veto” — needs majority approval in the Senate and House as well as President Bush’s signature. If Bush vetoes the resolution, it would take a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to override.
A congressional veto has been used successfully only once before. In 2001, the Republican-controlled Congress and White House used it to repeal workplace safety regulations issued during the Clinton administration.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., opposed the resolution as too broad and said its prospects of succeeding are “minimal at best.”
“This action would invalidate both good and bad,” McCain said. He has said he supports more specific legislation that restores limits on national TV station ownership.
In June, the Republican-dominated FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to ease decades-old ownership restrictions. The changes included allowing a single company to own TV stations reaching nearly half the nation’s viewers and broadcast stations and a newspaper in the same area.
Major media companies said the changes were needed because the old regulations hindered their ability to grow and compete in a market altered by cable television, satellite broadcasting and the Internet.
But lawmakers from both parties and a broad range of groups criticized the changes, saying the FCC regulations gave large media companies too much control over what people see, hear and read.
Before the vote, lawmakers led by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., urged their colleagues to support the measure to undo all the FCC changes.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said, “We should overturn this rule and ask the FCC to go back to the drawing board.” She said the commission failed to get enough public comment before making its decision.
Opponents of the media ownership changes initially appeared to have little chance of stopping the rules, but their efforts have steadily gained momentum.
The House dealt the FCC a surprising setback in July when it passed a broad spending bill that included a provision to block the commission from allowing individual companies to own TV stations reaching up to 45 percent of the nation’s viewers, instead of the current 35 percent. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar measure on Sept. 4.
Before the House vote, the White House also threatened to veto any final bill containing language that would roll back the national cap. Republicans who support the new rules hope that threat will help them strip the provision from a final House-Senate compromise bill.
On Sept. 3, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia temporarily blocked the rules from taking effect the following day as scheduled. Several other legal challenges to the rules from broadcasters and consumer groups are pending.
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