Senator seeks to overturn FCC media ownership rule

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 5, 2008 12:39pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Democratic senator on Wednesday introduced a resolution aimed at overturning a decision by regulators that loosened media ownership restrictions in the 20 biggest U.S. cities.

The "resolution of disapproval" was introduced by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a critic of media consolidation who has complained that the Federal Communications Commission did not do enough to get public comment before it approved the new rules in December.

"When nearly half of the people in this country are told that in their cities and towns the media will get the green light to consolidate, they will not be happy," Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, said in a statement.

At issue is a new rule, narrowly approved by FCC commissioners on December 18, that eased a 32-year-old ban on ownership of a newspaper and broadcast outlet in a single market and granted exemptions to six specific combinations that had been pending before the agency.

The FCC's Republican chairman, Kevin Martin, has said the rule was a minimal loosening of the ban aimed at helping struggling newspapers in big cities by spreading local news-gathering costs across multiple media platforms.

However, the rule provoked criticism from consumer groups and some lawmakers, as well as the FCC's two Democratic commissioners.

Critics say the easing the ownership rule would lead to more consolidation in the industry, eliminate independent voices and degrade local news coverage.

They also contend that it created a loophole that would let media owners combine newspapers and broadcast outlets in many smaller markets around the United States, not just the top 20 cities.

(Reporting by Peter Kaplan; Editing by Brian Moss and Derek Caney)

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