The House of Representatives yesterday (July 23) overwhelmingly approved legislation that would prevent media companies from buying more TV stations, despite a veto threat from the president and again

The House of Representatives yesterday (July 23) overwhelmingly approved legislation that would prevent media companies from buying more TV stations, despite a veto threat from the president and against the wishes of Republican Party leaders.

By a 400-21 vote, lawmakers approved a spending bill with language blocking an FCC decision to let companies own TV stations serving up to 45% of the country's viewers. The current ceiling is 35%.

The vote came after Republican FCC chairman Michael Powell issued a statement defending the agency's action. "We are confident in our decision," Powell said. "We created enforceable rules that reflect the realities of today's media marketplace. The rules will benefit Americans by protecting localism, competition and diversity."

Yesterday's vote shows how explosive the issue has become since the FCC eased regulations governing who can own what media property where. The fight moves to the Senate now, where several lawmakers of both parties are pushing similar language to be included in the Senate version of the appropriations bill, which may not be written until the fall.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chief sponsor of the provision that would derail the liberalized FCC rules, acknowledged in an interview that a tough fight lay ahead over keeping the language intact in the bill's final version. But he declared victory, for now.

"It's extremely rare to be able to reverse a regulatory decision that gives away the store to the big boys," Obey said.

The biggest beneficiaries should the FCC ruling stand would be Viacom Inc., which owns the CBS and UPN networks, and News Corp., owner of Fox. Because of mergers and acquisitions, both already exceed the 35% limit.

Opponents of the FCC decision, which range from non-network station groups to the National Rifle Association, said it would give giant broadcast corporations too much clout at the expense of communities and a diversity of voices.

Supporters of the FCC rule contend that the old regulations ignore the new media landscape that now contains cable and satellite TV, plus the Internet. Even the largest networks own less than 3% of the nation's 1,300 broadcast stations, and so the clout of the networks is being exaggerated, they argue.

On Tuesday, the chamber rejected by 254-174 an amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., to kill the entire FCC ruling, which he said would impede local media control. The June 2 ruling also would make it easier for companies to own newspapers and broadcast stations in the same community and to own more than one broadcast outlet in a market.

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