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Dorgan Tries to Block Cross-Ownership Change

Agency proponents, including Chairman Martin, call the change modest.

Sen. Byron Dorgan has introduced a “resolution of disapproval” in the Senate to block the FCC from implementing its revised media cross-ownership rule.

Last December, the FCC partially relaxed the ban that prevented an entity from owning both a daily newspaper and either a TV or radio station in a market. The new rule allows newspapers to own a single radio or TV station in the top 20 media markets if certain conditions are met, with the opportunity to apply for a waiver for combinations in smaller markets. The final language of the revised rule just reached the Senate.

Agency proponents, including Chairman Martin, call the change modest, and say the cross-ownership ban was the one rule not relaxed by the passage of the Telecom Act in 1996.

“The FCC says this is a modest compromise, but make no mistake, this is a big deal,” stated Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota.

The Senate Commerce Committee had wanted the commission to delay the vote until the agency’s localism and diversity proceedings were completed.

Dorgan previously introduced the resolution in 2003; he has 19 co-sponsors this time, including Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), as well as former candidate Joe Biden of Delaware.

NAB is also fighting the change in court, saying the FCC didn’t go far enough in relaxing the cross-ownership rule.

While the story this week concerns one media ownership rule, back in 2005 the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out previous rule changes for the rest of the media ownership rules revised under Chairman Michael Powell’s watch and sent the changed rules back to the FCC. Free Press has joined Media Access Project, Prometheus Radio Project, Georgetown Institute of Public Representation, United Church of Christ and Media Alliance in a lawsuit appealing those rules.