×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Senators slam trio of FCC Republicans

Commerce committee may consider bill to reverse regs

WASHINGTON — The gloves came off Wednesday as numerous senators called FCC commissioners on the carpet for their decision to dramatically loosen media ownership regs.

In addition, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Commerce panel, said he would allow the committee to consider a bill to roll back the new regs, even though he did not support that action himself.

In a party-line split decision earlier this week, the GOP-controlled FCC voted to allow one company to own TV and newspapers in the same market and to make it easier for media congloms to buy more TV and radio stations across the country.

After the hearing, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a leading critic of the new ownership rules, said the committee plans to prep a bill next week to restore to 35% the cap that limits the reach of a single company’s owned-and-operated stations nationwide. The FCC increased the cap to 45% Monday.

Dorgan said he would also try to add an amendment to reinstate the ban on a company owning a daily newspaper and a TV outlet in the same market, a reg the FCC largely erased in Monday’s decision.

Insiders predict the legislation will make it out of committee but face an uphill battle in the House, where FCC chieftain Michael Powell maintains powerful allies such as Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.). Any legislation Congress pursues to redefine the new media ownership regs will also require the president’s signature. Powell is a Bush appointee and would likely receive White House support for his new rules unless a public backlash makes it politically difficult.

Grim determination

Despite such high hurdles, Dorgan said he was determined to push the issue.

“We have to take one step at a time,” he said in an interview after the hearing. “We’ve got to begin building … I think there is going to be a groundswell of opposition the more the public hears about the changes.”

Powell and the other two GOP commissioners at the agency, Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin, faced a tough round of questioning from most of the senators on the committee. The harshest criticism came from Democrats, but some Republicans took several swipes, as well.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, is one of the main authors of legislation to return the national cap to 35%.

‘Spin and fraud’

Hollings accused Powell of a “dizzying” amount of “spin and fraud.”

“While Monday’s decision promising further deregulation may well be celebrated in a few New York and Hollywood boardrooms, it will be remembered as a dark day in thousands of American communities who look to the FCC to ensure that use of the public airwaves serves the interests of all Americans, not the economic self-interest of a chosen few,” he said.

In defense of the Republicans’ vote, Powell argued the new rules would only create more diversity and competition in the media marketplace. He blamed the courts and Congress’ 1996 Telecommunications Act for creating a “deregulatory bias” he was required, by law, to follow.

“The FCC is an administrative agency, and it is constitutionally bound to comply with Congress’ actions,” he said. “I must object to claims that we engaged in gratuitous deregulation. I believe we did our job and we did it well.”

Several Republicans, including Sen. John Sununu (N.H.) and George Allen (Va.), lauded Powell’s actions.

At times the attacks were particularly vicious. Known for her tough interrogations, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) assailed Abernathy for dismissing concern by Congress and the public as unfounded fear.

“Just because you sit behind a microphone doesn’t make you smarter,” Boxer lectured Abernathy. “To dismiss people as acting on fear is offensive — it is offensive to this Congress, and it is offensive to the people of California.”

More Scene

  • Andy CohenThe Shops and Restaurants at

    Andy Cohen to Receive Vito Russo Award at GLAAD Media Awards

    Mazel, Andy Cohen! Bravo’s late-night talk show host is set to receive the Vito Russo Award at the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards on May 4 in New York City. Sarah Jessica Parker will present him with the award, which is named in honor of GLAAD founder Vito Russo. The annual award goes to openly [...]

  • Variety TV Summit Europe

    Variety TV Summit Europe Coming to London on June 13

    Variety’s TV Summit Europe will coincide with London Tech Week this year, returning to the city on June 13. The international conference will be held at the Royal Lancaster and is co-produced by global events company Informa’s KNect365 division, the world’s largest business-to-business organizer. The one-day summit will focus on the intersection of content and [...]

  • David Furnish, Bryce Dallas Howard, Taron

    'Rocketman': Paramount Previews Footage of Elton John Biopic

    “Rocketman” is ready for lift off. Paramount Pictures threw a cocktail party Monday night to preview 15 minutes of the upcoming Elton John biopic, set for release on May 31, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, the legendary rock club where John made his U.S. debut nearly 50 years ago. The footage featured pieces of [...]

  • The CalArts REDCAT Gala 2019 Honoring

    Pixar's Pete Docter Honored at CalArts REDCAT Gala

    Pixar’s Pete Docter reminisced about his days as a student at CalArts on Saturday night at the 2019 CalArts REDCAT Gala, where he received the Distinguished Alumni Award. For the wide-eyed boy from Minnesota, where life was more routine, attending CalArts “was a free-for-all. It was eye-opening in a lot of ways,” he recalled. “But [...]

  • Sasha Pieterse, Eli Brown, Sydney Park

    'Pretty Little Liars' Spinoff Unexpectedly Coincides With College Admissions Scandal

    It was a case of art imitating life at Saturday night’s Hollywood premiere of “The Perfectionists” — Freeform’s “Pretty Little Liars” spinoff about a scandal involving college students striving for excellence by any means necessary. The TV show’s debut was coincidently preceded by a real-life college scandal involving Hollywood celebrities who allegedly didn’t let a [...]

  • Keira Knightley'The Aftermath' film screening, Arrivals,

    Keira Knightley Talks 'Aftermath,' Alexander Skarsgård and Another Itchy Wardrobe

    The reigning queen of period pieces, Keira Knightley, knows a thing or two about historical clothing. “Lining. Lining is always important,” the Oscar-nominated actress playfully advised on Wednesday at the premiere of her post-WWII drama “Aftermath.” “If you get a lot of itchy stuff always put lining in it. I have learned that from having [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content