Nets plan to fight solons on FCC regs

Reps to convince pols to oppose ownership rewrite

WASHINGTON — The networks are leaving nothing to chance when it comes to their right to purchase more TV stations.

Some 75 general managers from stations owned by the big four nets as well as Telemundo will descend on Capitol Hill this Wednesday. The station reps plan a massive campaign to convince lawmakers to oppose any effort to gut the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership rewrite.

In meetings with lawmakers, the station managers also plan to stress their commitment to local news and local communities, which was questioned repeatedly during the media ownership debate.

In letters requesting meetings with lawmakers, the nets dubbed themselves the Local Broadcasters’ Alliance, but the moniker does not represent a formal association or lobbying group.

The controversial new regs, issued June 2, significantly loosen strictures on how many TV stations one company can own by raising the cap on audience reach from 35% to 45%.

In the intervening weeks, a strong public backlash against the FCC’s decision has created momentum in Congress to roll back the regs and restore the cap to 35%.

The Senate Commerce Committee has already produced legislation that restores the cap and decimates several many of the other new media ownership rules as well. But the bills still must pass the full Senate and the House, where several influential GOP lawmakers have vowed to stop them in their tracks.

Pushing the bills

Still, numerous senators are equally determined to use every means at their disposal to push those bills to the Senate floor.

Early next week, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) will introduce the Congressional Review Act, which would serve as a legislative veto of the FCC rules, but it must pass the House and Senate to do so.

If that effort fails, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), could use the appropriations process and pass a measure restricting the FCC from spending any money to implement the new regs for one year.

On Wednesday the full appropriations panel in the House will take up the bill funding the FCC.

At that time, or when the full House moves on the bill the following week, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) plans to add an amendment aimed at restricting funds for the FCC rules.

On the Republican side of the aisle, lawmakers are circulating a more limited version, one that would refuse funding for any implementation of the 45% cap on audience reach.

Nets target riders

As part of Wednesday’s lobbying campaign, the nets’ general managers are making an effort to target appropriators on both sides of the Capitol to try to prevent these spending riders from gaining any traction.

The FCC and the nets have a strong ally in House Appropriations chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.), who has vowed to block any media ownership rider from impeding progress on spending bills.

“His priority is to move 13 spending bills, and he doesn’t need riders to complicate that process,” his spokesman John Scofield said.

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