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Congress approves new media-ownership cap

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Media companies will be able to own television stations that reach 39% of the American viewing public under the big spending bill approved yesterday by Congress.

The Federal Communications Commission had voted to allow the companies to reach 45% of viewers, but Congress then voted to keep the current 35% limit. Under a veto threat from President Bush, lawmakers agreed to the 39% cap. The bill, which is awaiting the president’s signature, also takes the power to change the cap away from the FCC.

The 39% limit allows two media giants — Viacom Inc., owner of CBS and UPN, and News Corp., owner of Fox — to keep all their television stations. Through mergers and acquisitions, both had exceeded the 35% cap.

Viacom and News Corp. spent a combined $5.5 million on lobbying between Jan. 1, 2002, and June 30, 2003, and $2.3 million on campaign contributions for the 2002 and 2004 elections.

Bush has received more in campaign donations from the broadcast industry than any other federal candidate since Jan. 1, 2003. He took in $158,450 — more than 10% of the industry’s $1.4 million in donations for the 2004 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.

There also is a legal battle over media-ownership rules.

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia temporarily blocked the higher cap and suspended other FCC-adopted ownership changes, including rules making it easier for companies to own newspapers and broadcast stations in the same community. Arguments are scheduled for Feb. 11.

Opponents of the higher cap said they regretted Congress’ action but would work with lawmakers to overturn the FCC’s other media-ownership rules.

“It’s regrettable that it’s there and that it was done behind closed doors, but we have much larger issues to address this year with Congress,” said Celia Wexler, research director for Common Cause, an advocacy group. “We already have the Senate on record as saying that all the media rules should be overturned and certainly that Senate piece is still very relevant.”

Congressional leaders compromise on media-ownership rules
Under veto threat, top lawmakers change measure to say companies can own stations reaching 39% of nation's viewers. 11.26.03


FCC says it has power to redraft media-ownership rules

In response to lawsuit, agency tells 3rd Circuit that it's allowed to respond to marketplace changes. 12.11.03

Opposing groups criticize media-ownership rules before 3rd Circuit
Access advocates tell three-judge panel FCC went too far when it eased regulations, but media companies argue regulators didn't go far enough. 02.12.04

Senate OKs higher fines for indecency
Lawmakers move measure without debate as part of massive defense bill, also approve provision that would delay FCC's media-ownership rules. 06.23.04

3rd Circuit throws out media-ownership rules
But panel finds FCC was within its rights to repeal blanket prohibition on companies owning both a newspaper, TV station in same city. 06.25.04

Former FCC lawyer: Media study was destroyed
Sen. Barbara Boxer asks agency to formally investigate why report, which suggested greater concentration of ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, was never circulated. 09.15.06

FCC to probe suppression of media-ownership reports
Chairman responded to request by Sen. Barbara Boxer, who earlier yesterday made public a second FCC study she said was shelved by agency officials. 09.19.06

Smaller stakes, bigger outcry as FCC again mulls media ownership
Democratic commissioners have accused Republican chairman of rushing review process while well-organized opponents have staged protests and Senate, House panels set hearings to discuss issue. 11.08.07

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