FCC in NRA’s cross hairs

Org opposed to 'gun-hating' companies gaining control

WASHINGTON — It seems loosening media ownership regulations makes strange bedfellows.

The National Rifle Assn. Wednesday took aim at the FCC, joining a battalion of left-leaning groups opposing the agency’s march to expand the reach of the nation’s largest media companies.

In a letter marked “Urgent NRA Bulletin, Media Monopoly Alert,” executive vice president Wayne LaPierre exhorted members to write the FCC and oppose the “gun-hating media giants like AOL Time Warner, Viacom/CBS and Disney/ABC” from gaining even more control over what information people receive.

The letter comes as the FCC, led by chairman Michael Powell, is set to relax many of the rules constraining media mergers. The agency plans to vote on the matter June 2, and numerous watchdog and consumer groups are clamoring to get their voices heard before the public comment period ends and the regs become official.

“If that happens, your NRA would face a disastrous situation where — in a political crisis — a small group of top media executives could literally silence your NRA and prevent us from communicating with your fellow Americans by refusing to sell us television, radio or newspaper advertising at any price,” LaPierre wrote in a five-page letter that included postcards addressed to the five FCC commissioners for the members to send.

PSA banned

The NRA cited a 1992 decision by ABC, CBS and NBC to ban a public service ad commending returning U.S. troops’ efforts in the Persian Gulf War. LaPierre contends that the ad, featuring Charlton Heston, did not “make a single mention” of firearms or the Second Amendment. The NRA maintains that it could not place the ad anywhere because the nets deemed it “too controversial” because the powerful gun-rights group had paid for it.

The NRA is the most politically conservative group to weigh in so far. Wednesday, nearly 100 Democratic House members, led by Caucus chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), signed a letter calling on the commission to “cease and desist” from its move to rewrite the rules until Powell meets with them and the public has a better chance to review the proposals and their effect on diversity, competition and localism.

Strangest bedfellows

In many ways, the bedfellows could not be stranger.

Conservative Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, who is busy promoting his company’s right to buy DirecTV, is at the vanguard of those pushing for deregulation. In fact, the NRA’s Web site Wednesday highlighted LaPierre’s appearance on Fox News earlier this week. The Bush administration has also strongly backed Powell and his efforts to wrap up the process by June 2.

In this fight, the NRA joins groups such as CodePink: Women for Peace, a Los Angeles-based free-speech org that recently teamed up with presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Conn.) calling on the government to add a Dept. of Peace to the Cabinet.

An NRA spokesman explained that the group decided to join the fray in order to protect its right to free speech. He then referred questions to LaPierre, who did not call back.

Some 20-30 CodePink members plan to show up to an open meeting at the FCC this week and attempt to give Powell a “pinkslip,” an actual pink-colored women’s slip, as a sign that he has failed to protect the public’s interest in his work to ease some of the current restrictions on media ownership.

The NRA is “not exactly an organization that we feel warmly toward at all,” said CodePink D.C. coordinator Gael Murphy. “But generally, the regulation is to protect the public interest, and that’s not what the FCC is going to do. It’s protecting corporate profits.”

GOP critics

Critics of Powell’s plans also include numerous prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill, who are circulating their own letter. This week alone, four GOP members of the Senate Commerce Committee came out in favor of keeping a reg limiting the percentage of the national audience one company can reach directly. Current bar is at 35%, but it is widely believed that Powell wants to raise that to 45%.

Only two Republican members of the Senate Commerce panel have expressed unwavering support for Powell’s plans to ease the restrictions, Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.).

Sen. John McCain, the committee chairman, admitted earlier this week that he is conflicted about the issue, while House Commerce chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has strongly backed the way Powell is leading the process for months.

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