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Dereg Foes Plan To Fight On

Sweeping media-ownership changes slated to be approved by the FCC today will generate sound bites and headlines across the country, but the commission's decision won't be the last word.

Both sides of the deregulation debate are gearing up to appeal the ruling both at the FCC and in court. Congress will get in the act, too, as disgruntled lawmakers push legislation to rewrite the agency's latest deregulation.

"The battle for media reform doesn't end on June 2. It begins on June 2," declared Consumer Federation Research Director Mark Cooper, a foe of deregulation.

"The battle for media reform doesn't end on June 2. It begins on June 2," declared Consumer Federation Research Director Mark Cooper, a foe of deregulation.

The battle is likely to be bloody in Congress, where Republicans, especially in the Senate, are particularly divided over the commission's plan to lift the cap on one TV group's national reach from 35% of U.S. television households to 45%.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has co-sponsored legislation that would reaffirm the 35% cap and leave future revisions the sole prerogative of Congress. Joining him is ranking Commerce Committee Democrat Ernest Hollings (S.C.) and leading Republicans Trent Lott (Miss.) and Conrad Burns (Mont.).

As proof the battle is just beginning, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called on the five commissioners to testify before the Commerce Committee on Wednesday to give details of the vote.

On the other side, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has stood by FCC Chairman Michael Powell and last week fired off a response to colleagues on the other side of the Capitol building that was unusually blunt.

"Critics of Michael Powell's plan to deregulate antiquated media-ownership rules have brought new meaning to the phrase 'static interference,'" Tauzin said. "It's time for these folks to adjust their antennas and tune in reality. Only in Washington, D.C., would those who ostensibly want to preserve free speech seek to do so by regulating broadcast rules."

Tauzin wasn't the only one venting last week. A presidential candidate even got in on the act when Vermont Gov. Howard Dean joined the parade of commission critics.

Democratic FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein hosted a roundtable composed of activists of varying political stripes, journalists, union representatives, and religious leaders. It was filled with invective about the dangers of big media.

"Just about everyone is opposed, and I agree with America," Adelstein said.

"The big media companies and the lobbyists have turned the FCC into their tool," lamented Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Actor Richard Dreyfuss, M*A*S*H
writer Larry Gelbart and Murphy Brown
creator Diane English were among Hollywood creative types who held a conference call with reporters, lambasting media conglomerates on behalf of the Writers Guild.

Consumer groups are planning a lawsuit against the new regulations that will attack perceived inconsistencies in the rules.

Broadcasters, too, are prepping for a fight. Last week, despite being repelled in an effort to secure more-lenient duopoly restrictions, they floated a new plan.