WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate approved a resolution Tuesday to roll back new media ownership rules that have brought heavy criticism from a broad range of advocacy groups, shifting the fight to the House where Republican leaders pledged to kill the measure.

A White House veto threat also looms over the resolution, which the Senate approved with a 55-40 vote. The resolution seeks to undo changes to Federal Communications Commission regulations governing ownership of newspapers and television and radio stations.

Critics say those changes could lead to a wave of media mergers and ultimately stifle diversity and local viewpoints in news and entertainment. A federal appeals court already has temporarily placed the rules on hold.

“The public interest prevailed over the big corporate interests today here in the Senate,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who with Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., led the effort to pass the resolution.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, summed up the House prospects after the Senate vote: “It’s going nowhere – dead on arrival.”

To succeed, the resolution – called a “congressional veto” – needs majority approval in the Senate and House as well as President Bush’s signature. If Bush vetoed the resolution, it would take a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to override.

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the Senate vote proved there is not enough support for an override.

A congressional veto has been used successfully only once before. In 2001, the Republican-controlled Congress and White House used it to repeal workplace safety regulations issued during the Clinton administration.

In June, the Republican-dominated FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to ease decades-old ownership restrictions. The changes included allowing a single company to own TV stations reaching nearly half the nation’s viewers and broadcast stations and a newspaper in the same area.

Major media companies said the changes were needed because the old regulations hindered their ability to grow and compete in a market altered by cable television, satellite broadcasting and the Internet.

Lawmakers from both parties and a broad range of groups criticized the changes, saying the new FCC regulations gave large media companies too much control over what people see, hear and read.

But FCC Chairman Michael Powell said repealing the rules “would bring no clarity to media regulation, only chaos.”

“This is a harm the FCC’s new media rules were designed to avoid,” Powell said in a statement after the vote. He said the resolution would undo tighter restrictions on radio ownership, the one change that did not relax regulations.

Consumer groups critical of the rules praised the Senate vote.

“Separate ownership of dominant local newspapers and local broadcasters is essential to preserve the checks and balances against media bias that our democracy relies upon,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior policy director for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.

The Republican-controlled House dealt the FCC a surprising setback in July when it passed a broad spending bill that included a provision to block the commission from allowing individual companies to own TV stations reaching up to 45 percent of the nation’s viewers, instead of the current 35 percent. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar measure on Sept. 4.

The White House also has threatened to veto any final bill containing language that would roll back the national TV cap. Republicans who support the new rules hope that threat will help them strip the provision from a final House-Senate compromise bill.

On Sept. 3, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia temporarily blocked the rules from taking effect the following day as scheduled. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Nov. 5.

On Tuesday, the court refused a request from some of the major TV networks to transfer the case to an appeals court in Washington.

Several other legal challenges to the rules from broadcasters and consumer groups are pending.



On the Net:

FCC: http://www.fcc.gov

AP-ES-09-16-03 1847EDT



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