House, Senate launch crusade against media consolidation

[statement from the office of Rep. Jay Inslee]

A bipartisan group of five House members has filed a measure aimed at nullifying a controversial Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that would end a 32-year-old ban on radio and television broadcasters owning newspapers in Seattle and other of the nation's largest media markets. It is the House companion to legislation offered in the Senate last week.

The resolution of disapproval is a congressional review mechanism, designed to give Congress an opportunity to prevent the implementation of rules created by federal agencies. It would need to pass both chambers and get the president s signature or win an override vote within roughly three months from the time Congress is notified about the rule, which occurred in late February.

"Consolidation already has brought us to the point where two companies control 70 percent of market revenue in an average radio market," said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), the resolution's prime sponsor and member of the House panel with jurisdiction over the FCC. "We need to use every tool available to prevent further weakening of media-ownership rules."

"While I respect the free market, I believe it is a role of government to stand between corporations and consumers when the public interest is at stake. We want local media to remain local, diverse and free. Relaxing restrictions does not serve our citizens, and we re taking further action to prevent these changes from negatively affecting our communities and the families at home. We have heard from our constituents loud and clear on this issue and will continue to do what we can to maintain the diverse, free and unbiased source of news that they clearly value," added U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.). Other sponsors of Inslee's resolution include U.S. Reps. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

"This bill signals growing momentum to end the corrupt era of Big Media giveaways," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press Action Fund, which coordinates the StopBigMedia.com Coalition. Members of both parties in both houses of Congress are fed up with the FCC s intransigence on media ownership. We strongly support this bipartisan effort and will mobilize our activists across the country behind the resolution.

Inslee and Reichert long have been champions of media diversity. They both participated in a field hearing on media ownership the FCC held in Seattle on November 9. It was the last of only six public forums held nationwide.

In December, the congressmen also introduced the Media Ownership Act, H.R.4835, which would halt the enactment of the new cross-ownership rule by requiring more time for public comment on rules proposed by the FCC.

The Senate resolution of disapproval, S.J.Res. 28, was filed on March 5, 2008, by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). It has 17 bipartisan co-sponsors, including U.S. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and John Kerry (D-Mass.).

In December, the FCC voted on and approved the new cross-ownership rule, which would end a three-decade ban on the common ownership of a daily newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market for the nation's top 20 media markets. It also would make it easier for the FCC to waive ownership rules in all markets. The rule was published in the Federal Register on February 21.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey