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2003-07-24

In A Stunning 400-21 Vote, House Howls Foul Over Powell & FCC Media Regulations

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The House overwhelming votes to repeal a key provision of the Federal Communications Commission new media ownership rules. Such a vote was unimaginable just six weeks ago when the FCC voted 3-2 to allow the nation’s largest television networks to grow bigger by owning more stations.

The House of Representatives voted yesterday to block a new Federal Communications Commission rule allowing for further media consolidation. The legislation was passed by 400 to 21.

In language attached to an FCC budget bill, the House forbade the agency to carry out last month’s vote to allow the nation’s largest television station networks to grow bigger by owning more stations.

The June 2nd decision allows a single company to own TV stations reaching 45 percent of U.S. homes. The prior cap was 35 percent.

Already two T.V. networks, Viacom — with its CBS and UPN networks — as well as News Corp’s FOX are above the old 35 percent cap. Both networks lobbied the FCC to eliminate the cap.

The House move was embedded in a spending bill. The White House has threatened to veto the entire bill if the network provision remains in it.

The decision also still needs to be approved by the Senate. It could also face a move by House Republican leaders to kill the provision during House-Senate budget negotiations.

On a separate 254-174 vote, the House rejected an amendment proposed by New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey that would have overturned the entire FCC ruling.

TRANSCRIPT

You are listening to "Democracy Now!" When we come back from our break, we’ll go to the stunning vote in the House yesterday.
That vote against Michael Powell and the F.C.C. 400-21, overturning a key provision of the media ownership rules.

After that, we’ll be talking about the child tax credit that is going to be sent out to millions of Americans except to the country’s poorest families, and we’ll find out about landmark day labor legislation that is being introduced in the house today.

Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: Revolution in the 80’s from the movie "amandela."

I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez.
The House of Representatives voted yesterday to block a new federal communications commission rule allowing for further media consolidation. Legislation passed 400-21. In language attached to an F.C.C. budget bill, the House forbade the agency to carry out last month’s vote to allow the nation’s largest TV station networks to grow bigger by owning more stations.

The June 2 decision allows a single company to own TV stations reaching 45% of U.S. homes. The prior cap was 35%. Already two TV networks, Viacom–with its CBS and UPN networks–as well as Newscorp’s Fox, are above the old 35% cap. Both networks lobbied the F.C.C. to eliminate the cap.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The House move was embedded in a spending bill. The White House had threatened to veto the entire bill if the network provision remains in it. The decision also still needs to be approved by the Senate. It could face a move by House Republican leaders to kill the provisions during House/Senate budget negotiations.

On a separate 254-174 vote, the House rejected an amendment proposed by New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey that would have overturned the entire F.C.C. ruling.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. He’s co-author of "Abracadabra, Hocus-Pocus: Making Media Market Power Disappear with the FCC’s Diversity Index." Welcome to "Democracy Now, Mark Cooper."

MARK COOPER: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk first about this stunning defeat of Michael Powell and then about the study that you did that exposes the falsity of the studies that were used.

MARK COOPER: Well, the historical perspective on this is really interesting. There was only one piece of legislation in George Bush Sr., the father’s, presidency, that was ever — a veto was overridden. That was the Cable Consumer Protection Act of 1992. Really interesting. These media issues have been an article of ideological dogma among the Bushes and some Republicans for a long time.
But they are really very, very potent public policy issues, and I think that’s what we saw yesterday in the House. A broad spectrum of people have come together, the right and the left, as extremist as you can imagine in terms of their different points of view, to express a great deal of concern that allowing a handful of companies to own more and more TV stations or, in my view, most importantly, for TV stations and newspapers in any given city to be owned by the same entity, which is the fairly close vote that you mentioned that was lost a few days ago. A single entity can dominate the local media market, and that is a source of great concern to a variety of people. I mean, stunning vote. It definitely shows that the American people have rejected the radical deregulation that Mike Powell has proposed.
There’s a long legislative road and a long grass roots political organizing road that is yet to be traveled, but clearly it marks a turning point in this whole movement from media reform and media justice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Mark, given the overwhelming vote on the network ownership rules, why did the House not address the newspaper/TV cross-ownership, or the ownership of more than two television stations in one market? Why did they choose just to single out one of the rules?

MARK COOPER: Well, the irony here is that — there’s two things going on. One, a lot of the TV stations, the local TV stations, are really worried about the national cap, which is the one that was overridden yesterday, the vote to override. And so the industry was divided in its feelings about that. That takes away a lot of the resistance from some people.
Second fact that played here was that the leadership of the movement, Democratic leadership, really wanted a very big vote.
So, for strategic reasons, they really wanted the one clean vote on the national cap, which they knew they could get.
And so some 60 Democrats voted against the earlier bill, and you can see that if you flip those 60 votes around, it would have carried. That is, the broader move.
But the leadership really wanted to send a very strong signal to the White House that this is an important issue. So, on balance, when you think about the lead story in The New York Times reporting a 400-21 vote–which would have been much smaller if they had carried all of the provisions–it’s not a bad strategy. It clearly has sent a signal and galvanized people. So it’s a mixture of both–the other issues are a little bit harder, and there was a bit of strategy going on here.
But remember, the Senate committee, the Senate committee a couple of weeks ago passed a bill, a fairly strong vote, I think it was 14-9, that included all the provisions that are a concern to us. So there’s plenty of room to get other provisions into the Senate side and go to conference and get the best possible outcome in the conference, although it’s quite clear the other side would try and strip this stuff out, as well. That’s why I say, there’s a long, legislative road to travel here before we get to the end point.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s point out the level of grass- roots organizing that went on here.
I’m sure this 400-21 trouncing of Michael Powell and the FCC’s decision on June 2 had a lot to do with organizations from the anti-war feminist group, Code Pink, joining forces with the National Rifle Association in opposing these rules.

MARK COOPER: Well, the interesting thing is that this coalition of groups that oppose the rules are clearly —- they are 'hot issue minorities.'
I mean that was the interesting thing about the people getting together. If you’re not in the middle of the mainstream of American politics, if you have a message that is either on the right or the left, it’s a minority view, a strongly held view, what all these people have discovered is that they can’t get their point of view fairly aired in the commercial mass media. And again, whether it’s the N.R.A. who thinks they don’t get a fair shake or the National Organization for Women, right, or the ACLU, all these people are minorities who just don’t think that the commercial mass media is responsive to their needs and allowing a small number of commercial entities to own more and more TV stations and newspapers -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Mark, if I could ask you, we have about a minute left, I’d just like to ask about the study that you recent have the come out with that tears apart the original half dozen studies, especially the diversity index study that the FCC put out, on which based its rules changes.

MARK COOPER: Well, the simplest way to describe how absurd those studies are is, in the New York City area, the F.C.C. methodology gives more importance to the Duchess Community College public TV station than it does to the New York Times. It simply took a view in which it said, look, we don’t care how big the audience is, anybody who has an outlet, either a newspaper or a TV station, is going to count roughly equally. And what that does is simply downplays the importance of the major media owners, big TV stations, big newspapers, in claiming that, you know, well, all these little people could actually get an idea out there, which is true, and therefore, it makes no distinction. It also vastly overweights radio and weekly newspapers and underweights television, which is the dominant medium in our society. So on its face, and we’ve found dozens of examples where a little newspaper with a circulation of 5,000 is deemed to be equal to or even more important than a TV station with 150,000 viewers a day. It just doesn’t make any sense. And the only way they could get to the end point they wanted, let’s be clear, they knew where they were going to go and they tried to write a set of rules and justifications back from where they wanted to go. We don’t think even a conservative court in Washington can accept rules that are based on completely unrealistic results and assumptions.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So very much like the cooking of the books that went on in the Bush administration over the Iraq war.

MARK COOPER: There are very, very similar parallels in the sense that Mike Powell knew what he wanted to do. He keeps saying these things, like he was quoted this morning in the paper, he says, you know, we can’t ignore satellite and cable and the internet. It turns out that, in his own analysis for the purposes of studying local diversity, satellite, cable, and the internet are not local sources. They don’t tell you about school board elections in your hometown or the local congressional election, and yet he keeps saying that for three years now, the same thing, over and over again, even though his own experts and the own order did not count cable and satellite as a local voice, and yet his statement is, hey, cable and satellite are out there. He really just has not accepted the empirical evidence that was put before the committee.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Cooper, I want to thank you for being with us. If people want to see your report, "Abracadabra, Hocus-Pocus," where can they go on the web?

MARK COOPER: Go to the consumer union web site, consumer.org, and it’s up in the press section–been up there for the better part of this week.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America, thanks for being with us.

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