President Advised to Veto FCC-Blocking Resolution

Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez recommended that the president veto a resolution of disapproval overturning the Federal Communications Commission's loosening of the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership if that resolution is passed by the Senate and House.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to consider the unusual resolution in a hearing Wednesday. The House launched a similar effort.

Pushed by media-consolidation critic Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and supported by among others Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), the resolution would essentially invalidate the FCC rule change, which was approved Dec. 18 over the protests of Dorgan and other key Democrats in the House and Senate.

In a letter obtained by B&C that is addressed to Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Gutierrez saif the Bush administration "strongly opposes any attempt to overturn these rules by legislative means." As Commerce Secretary, he also oversees the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is the president's chief technology-policy adviser.

Dorgan got a similar FCC-blocking bill passed in the Senate back in 2003 after the FCC approved more deregulatory rule changes. But the resolution was bottled up in the Republican-controlled House and mooted by a federal court's remand of the rules. It was that remand the FCC was trying to satisfy Dec. 18 when it approved what FCC chairman Kevin Martin called a compromise that had taken into account the input of anti-consolidation activists at public hearings around the country. He said he did not think lifting the ban entirely or loosening other rules was in the public interest.

Saying he was relaying the administration's views, Gutierrez told Inouye the FCC rule changes "modernizes outdated media-ownership regulations to appropriately take into account the plethora of news and information outlets that exist today. To overturn this action and require the federal government to reassert regulatory constraints on business decisions in a competitive media marketplace would exacerbate newspaper and broadcast financial challenges and, thus, not be in the public interest."

So if the bill makes it to the president's desk, he sf, "his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

The FCC rules are under attack on numerous fronts. Broadcasters have filed more than onr-dozen suits against the change as too little, arguing that the ban on owning a newspaper and TV station or radio station in the same market should have been lifted, not just loosened, and that the FCC should have relaxed local TV and/or radio ownership caps.

Anti-consolidation activists have also filed suits aplenty against the rules, saying that any further consolidation was unjustified and that the FCC process arriving at that rule change was flawed and insufficiently vetted -- sentiments shared by Dorgan.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.