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Massive Rereg Bill Introduced

Democratic New York Representative Maurice Hinchey last week introduced a bill that would massively reregulate the media.

Chances for such a bill are nearly nil and it should be seen more as a shot across the bow by liberal Democrats as a Republican Congress takes up the 1996 Act in the context of the broadband revolution and the transition to digital TV.

Hinchey's goal, he said, in introducing the Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005 (H.R. 3302), would be to fix what he calls a "broken media system in the United States in which only a select group of individuals get to determine what information Americans can receive via television, newspaper, radio, and other media."

The sweeping bill, which was introduced July 14, would: 1) invalidate all of the FCC's 2003 media ownership rule rewrite (an appeals court only remanded the rules for a re-do), and reinstate the  newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rule the local TV multiple ownership rule that the FCC scrapped in the 2003 rewrite;  2)restore the fairness doctrine; 3) lower the cap on TV station ownership from the 39% (raised by Congress) back to to 25%; 4) reduce the number of radio and TV stations a company can own; 5) increase the number of public interest obligations on all broadcasters; 6) get rid of the UHF discount "loophole" that counts only half a UHF station's audience reach toward ownership caps.

But wait, there's more.

The bill would change the FCC's biennial reg review to triennial (two years does not seem to give the FCC enough time, particularly if the changes are controversial), but would require any media ownership rule to be published in the Federal Register and be the subject of at least five public hearings across the country. (FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is said to be agreeable to that number of hearings on the FCC's current attempted rewrite of the 2003 rules.)

The bill, co-sponsored by Diane Watson (D-Calif.), would also take aim at vertical integration by mandating more independently-produced programming on the TV networks.

And there is much more still, but essentially it is an anti-consolidation activist's wish-list that would wipe out the deregulation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and then some.

"From the recent debate over public broadcasting, to the uproar that followed when the FCC tried to weaken its media ownership rules in June 2003, it is clear that Americans want a diverse media that is responsive to local communities," Hinchey said in introducing the bill.

Hinchey was a leader of the protest against the CPB budget cuts, including helping lead a rally of the cuts on Capitol Hill. Those cuts, themselves a shot across the bow by Republicans at what they see as the liberal noncom media, have been restored.