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Senate suspends lax media ownership rules

Senate Suspends Lax FCC Media Ownership Rules as Part of Decency Measure

Consumers Union Applauds Effort to Ensure Diversity and Localism in Media

Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Susan Herold, 202-462-6262
(Washington, D.C.) – The fight to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s lax media ownership rules scored another important victory today, as the Senate approved a suspension of the ownership rules as part of a measure to increase fines on broadcasters for offensive programming.
“Once again the Senate has demonstrated its objection to weakening rules that keep massive media conglomerates from swallowing up local media outlets and ignoring community values,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.
The Senate approved by voice vote an amendment offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D- N.D.) to a measure by Sen. Brownback increasing fines for offensive programming as part of the Defense Authorization bill. The Dorgan amendment would suspend the FCC media ownership rules that, among other things, would have eliminated the ban on newspaper/TV mergers in most markets. The amendment also preserves the national cap on the number of television stations a single company can own to 39 percent of the nation’s households.
“Consumers commend Senator Dorgan for helping to protect media competition and diversity, while ensuring that programming and content meets community standards and values. As we wait for the courts to decide whether the FCC’s rules should take effect, we are extremely pleased that Senator Dorgan succeeded in keeping this important issue alive in the legislative process,” Kimmelman said.
The Senate has previously approved measures to overturn the FCC rules, and the rules have been stayed by the courts pending a legal challenge in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
An amendment sponsored by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) also was approved Tuesday that would set aside violence-free family viewing time. “We support Senator Hollings’ efforts to ensure that parents have the power to control the violent broadcast programming that their children may watch,” Kimmelman said.
Kimmelman also noted that the FCC is currently reviewing whether cable and satellite operators should offer consumers the option of picking the channels they want to pay for, and will report its findings to Congress soon. “An a la carte programming option would be yet another tool for giving consumers more control over their television programs entering their homes,” he said. This issue was not addressed in today’s Senate action.