Television

US lawmakers defy White House, block new FCC media rules

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WASHINGTON: The US House and Senate negotiators defied a White House veto threat on 19 November and agreed to a provision that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from loosening rules on ownership of multiple media outlets.

 

The lawmakers fashioning a huge end-of-session spending bill also decided to provide $13 million that poor students in Washington, D.C., could use to pay for private schooling. The money represents a victory for President Bush, creating the first federally financed school voucher program after years of trying by Republicans.



Without a specific vote on the subject -- and virtually no discussion -- negotiators included a provision barring the Federal Communications Commission from letting companies own stations watched by 45 percent of viewers. That means the current limit of 35 percent would remain in effect.



The decision is a setback for the US president, who strongly endorsed the rule change. The plan would have allowed a company to own television stations that could reach almost half the viewing public in the nation.



Once bargainers finish writing the bill, it will have to be approved by the House and Senate and receive Bush's signature. The White House has said it would recommend President Bush veto a spending bill that includes rolling back the new FCC rule. However, few analysts and lawmakers expect him to reject a measure that funds several government agencies solely because of the FCC issue.



Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a supporter of retaining the current limits, said he expected "a verbal spanking" from the White House but not a veto.



In recent days, Stevens and other GOP lawmakers had expressed doubt that the White House would veto the massive spending bill -- expected to exceed $280 billion, one-eighth of the entire federal budget -- over the media ownership issue.



Viacom Inc., which runs the CBS and UPN television networks, and News Corp., operator of Fox network, already own local stations that reach about 40 percent of the national television audience.



However, the two media conglomerates are not expected to have to sell stations because the legislation affects only future transactions that would put a network above 35 percent.

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