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McCain: News Corp.- DirecTV just another merger

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said his committee would look at a potential News Corp. purchase of DirecTV just like it looks at any major merger.

"We would have to look at the impact of such a merger on competition," he told reporters during an inpromptu press conference outside his Senate office on Thursday. McCain was responding to a report in the Financial Times, quoting McCain saying that allowing Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to own DirecTV "could result in a consolidation of power the likes of which this country has not seen since William Randolph Hearst."

McCain wouldn't repeat that on Thursday, saying instead that a committee look at the transaction would just be business as usual. "Any merger or consolidation that has the appearance of possibly reducing competition falls under this committee's oversight and scrutiny," he said. McCain also said he would be willing to hold hearings. Asked whether he would "force" Murdoch to testify, he said "it would be up to him. But I have never known Rupert Murdoch to be shy about testifying in front of Congress."

McCain also commented on several other telecommunications-related items during the short briefing. He said he would be willing to look at any broadband deregulation bill the House may pass, but "if the legislation stays as it is now, in my opinion it would be very difficult to pass through this committee." The four Senators who strongly oppose the broadband deregulation bill now moving in the House-Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) are all long-standing members of the Senate Commerce Committee. Stevens is in line to replace McCain when his term as chairman expires in 2002, Hollings is ranking member and Burns chairs the communications subcommittee.

Finally, McCain said he wished he could have appeared on ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? with other Senators (such as former Majority Leader and President candidate Bob Dole), and was disappointed that the Senate Ethics Committee ruled it a violation. The appearance would have raised money for a World War II monument that is being planned for the Washington Mall. "It was the first time in my life that my kids were proud of something I was going to do," he said wryly. McCain would have picked his 16-year-old daughter, Megan, to be his lifeline, he said. "She listens to all this godawful music that should not assault human sensibilities."

In other Commerce Committee developments, May 17 has bee set as the confirmation hearing date for the three FCC nominees-Republicans Kevin Martin and Kathleen Abernathy, and Democrat Mike Copps, says a committee spokeswoman. The committee also would like to include in the proceedings FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who the White House has nominated to a second term. But so far the committee hasn't received Powell's paperwork from the White House, which could force the committee to hold a second hearing just for him.

The spokeswoman also confirmed that McCain has tenative plans to hold hearings on the broadcast ownership rules this June. - Paige Albiniak