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By Peter Kaplan
WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - A Democratic U.S. senator said he would introduce bipartisan legislation on Thursday that would impose a 90-day delay on an impending U.S. Federal Communications Commission decision on whether to ease rules governing media ownership.
Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said the bill would require the FCC to study the issue for at least 90 more days, and he reiterated past criticism that the agency has not gone far enough to publicly discuss the issue.
“We need to get this right,” Dorgan said.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin recently said he wants the agency to wrap up its examination of media ownership and reach a decision by Dec. 18 on whether to ease limits on how many media outlets a company may own in a single market.
Dorgan’s comments on Thursday came during a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee designed to air concerns about media ownership rule changes.
Dorgan said he was “certain” that Martin would propose to lift restrictions on cross-ownership between newspapers and radio and television stations.
Martin has not proposed exactly what to do about the ownership limits. But Dorgan said on Thursday that the chairman has told him that further consolidation in the media is necessary.
Dorgan said his bill would be backed by other Democrats, as well as Republicans Trent Lott of Mississippi and Olympia Snowe of Maine.
Consumer groups and Democrats on the FCC have expressed reservations about easing ownership rules, fearing that more consolidation in the industry would eliminate independent voices and degrade local news coverage.
Long-standing FCC rules restrict media cross-ownership and ban ownership of a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market, unless the FCC grants a waiver.
If cross-ownership limits were eased or lifted, it could help some investors, such as real estate tycoon Sam Zell, who is leading a proposed leveraged buy-out of media group Tribune Co TRB.N. Zell wants the FCC to reaffirm waivers that allow Tribune to cross-own daily newspapers and broadcast outlets in some markets. (Reporting by Peter Kaplan; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Gerald E. McCormick)