Dorgan: FCC Shaking Its Pom-Poms for Consolidation

Senator Claims Commitments from Heads of Senate Commerce Committee to Move Bill by April to Nullify Federal Communications Commission's Loosening of Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership Ban

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D.N.D.) told reporters he had commitments from the heads of the Senate Commerce Committee, Republican and Democrat, to move a bill by April that would help to rein in "galloping concentration" by blocking the Federal Communications Commission's loosening of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban in a Dec. 18 vote.

Dorgan joined media activists on a conference call Wednesday to beat up on the FCC's decision and vow to stop it. The bill has the backing of both Democratic presidential nominees.

Dorgan said the FCC was supposed to be the referee on media ownership, but instead "joined those shaking the pom-poms for more media concentration." The bill is a special resolution nullifying the FCC rule, and it will need to be passed within 60 "congressional days" (days when the Congress is in session). But that won't put much of a timetable on it given that it is an election year, when Congress is often more notable for its absence as members try to get re-elected.

Josh Silver of Free Press said his group saw the makings of the same kind of pushback on the FCC's Dec. 18 vote as the 3 million who weighed in against the FCC's 2003 attempt to pass deregulatory rule changes. He conceded that the FCC's latest move was less deregulatory, but his and other groups feel the change is unjustified.

Tim Winter, president of one of these groups, the Parents Television Council, said that even if it was a small step in the wrong direction, it was still in the wrong direction. The PTC -- which knows a little something about making its voice heard at the FCC on indecency -- also framed that issue in terms of consolidation and a lack of responsiveness to local communities.

Also on the call were members of the National Organization of Women, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Prometheus Radio Project, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

“There is no question, or at least there should be none, that consolidation harms local media diversity,” said Mark Lloyd of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "It is important to stop the railroad that [FCC chairman] Kevin Martin has put on the tracks and is trying to steamroll through America," he added, mixing his industrial metaphors in the heat of anti-consolidation solidarity.

Alex Nogales of NHMC called the FCC decision terrible.

But they are doing more than talking. The head of NABJ will be meeting with legislators on the issue next week, and NOW is sending a call to action to its members to get them to push their legislators to sign onto the bill. Silver said Free Press was "aggressively combing the Senate for co-sponsors." He did not have a prediction of how it would fare in the House, but he pointed out that there was bipartisan support on the Senate side.