- Following the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial decision on June 2 to ease media ownership limits, supporters in Congress were so sure they had momentum on their side that Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., announced the ongoing debate had become a “soap opera” and that given the chance he intended to “cancel its run.”
But instead, there’s a cliffhanger: A series of increasingly lopsided, bipartisan congressional votes vowing to undo the FCC’s work on media concentration has challenged Tauzin and other supporters. The votes make it increasingly clear that America’s largest media companies, such as Viacom/CBS, Disney/ABC, NBC, AOL Time Warner and News Corp./Fox, along with their army of lobbyists, are in danger of losing control of an issue they thought they had put to bed. And if the political momentum continues to mount this summer, there’s a growing chance a key portion of the FCC’s June 2 decision on media ownership will be overturned by Congress.
That would represent a humiliating setback for FCC chairman Michael Powell and could cause real discomfort for the Bush White House, which has backed Powell’s aggressive agenda of deregulation.
Right now, some Democratic candidates smell blood. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., quickly signed on with a procedural effort in the Senate to nullify the FCC’s vote. And last week, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., said Powell’s media ownership vote had “betrayed the public trust,” adding, “He and his FCC must be stopped.”
….The surprisingly stiff opposition in Congress, where commercial broadcasters have often enjoyed good working relations with politicians, is just the latest example of how the swelling anti-FCC, anti-media-consolidation movement is reverberating around Capitol Hill. In fact, the story behind the media-consolidation battle is the unprecedented grassroots campaign, joined by both liberals and conservatives, that has clearly sparked action inside the Beltway.
- The White House has vowed to veto the $38 billion spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments if it contains the FCC amendment. But to do so, Bush would also be vetoing the entire spending bill, which includes must-have money for the FBI, law enforcement and judges.
“If I were the White House I’d be very wary of creating an issue for Democrats, who have very few right now,” says one Democratic Hill staffer. “And if he vetoes this, he’ll have created a big issue for them.”
Instead, Republican leaders in the House, including Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Commerce Committee chairman Tauzin, have vowed to strip the FCC rider out of the House version, which would save the White House from having to veto the bill. That could be done behind closed doors in conference when House leaders meet with their Senate counterparts to hammer out the final appropriations bill. But sitting across from DeLay and Tauzin in conference will be senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ted Stevens, a strong opponent of media consolidation who is unlikely to agree to yank the FCC rider.
“Nobody’s going to let this sleeping dog lie,” says Rose at Consumers Union. “It’s too big of a deal.”