Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) is introducing a bill Thursday that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from voting on any new media-ownership rules until sometime in 2008 and open a separate proceeding on broadcast localism.
Dorgan said he is introducing the Media Ownership Act of 2007, co-sponsored by Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The bill would require the FCC to have a 90-day comment period on any proposed media-ownership rule changes and to conduct a seperate proceeding on localism and diversity with another 90-day comment period.
The hearing was called by Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) after media-consolidation critic Dorgan and others got wind of FCC chairman Kevin Martin's plan to try to vote on new media-ownership rules by the end of the year.
Martin has said that it is time to complete the process, which will have incluced one-dozen public hearings stretching back several years once the FCC holds its final media-ownership hearing in Seattle Friday. He plans to release for public inspection his proposed rule changes Nov. 13, according to sources, with four weeks for public comment and a vote Dec. 18.
Martin will almost certainly propose getting rid of or modifying the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, particularly since the federal court that sent the FCC's generally deregulatory rules back to the commission for better justification said lifting that ban was one thing the FCC had made a case for. It is unclear whether he will also stick with loosening the restrictions on dual station ownership in smaller markets.
Dorgan and Lott promised some type of legislative blocking maneuver of Martin's plan in a Hill press conference two weeks ago. They were the same duo who attempted to block the FCC's 2003 rule rewrite.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said at the hearing that it appeared that the FCC was headed down the same ill-advised path as that 2003 rewrite, calling it a new attempt to consolidate the media while there is still unfinished business on mintority and localism issues. "I don't think Americans are going to accept the excuse of unintended consequences from the ownership changes," he said. "I think the FCC needs to know that that approach will not stand and Congress is not going to allow it."
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) took over the gavel from Dorgan, who chaired the hearing, and ended by adding his voice to those counseling Martin not to vote Dec. 18, saying he thought that was the sense of the Congress, of the Senate, and of the committee.