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Broadcast Ownership Eyed by Congress

Broadcast Ownership Eyed by Congress

Congress will likely hold hearings to look at media ownership in light of last week’s federal appeals court decision ordering the FCC to justify or eliminate its 35% national audience cap for TV. That’s what some congressional leaders told broadcasters this week.
The FCC is reviewing media ownership, and specifically, how it defines a market for ownership purposes.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., called the cap “archaic.” In general, his only problem with media consolidation “is when it bumps into advertising and that’s where smaller players get hurt.”
A Senate staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee said of radio consolidation, “If you have fewer places to place advertising, rates will go up.” That’s what regulators will look at, he said.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said of the Telecom Act: “We thought we were visionaries when it passed. What I had hoped for from that bill was more competition.” He said he supports “some cap” on ownership.
“I want to make sure radio stations are not slowly consumed,” he said.
Lott took the opportunity before broadcasters to blast the commission for acting too slowly in general and “getting it wrong” when it does act. “They explode rules,” said Lott, adding the commission doesn’t interpret rules the way Congress intends, although he wouldn’t get into specifics. He said before any other commissioners are confirmed, Congress would ask the commission questions about several issues.
Tauzin, meanwhile, chastised broadcasters for graphics used during the Enron hearing coverage. He said CNN had listed the amount of money that politicians had received from Enron Corp. during hearings held on the bankrupt energy firm. He said it’s hypocritical for broadcasters and cable companies to donate money to members of Congress and them implicitly criticize them for taking it.
“Broadcasters and cable companies have business before Congress,” he said, then adding, “Either stop contributions, or stop putting up the amounts.” He also noted that broadcasters don’t give money to politicians directly, the money goes to a political action committee, which distributes the funds to PACS for members of Congress.