FCC Rule on Media Ownership Blocked by House

Provision added to spending bill may prompt first veto by President Bush. Also: Donaldson aims to simplify conflict-of-interest rules; SEC just can't hire fast enough; U.S. Air Force grounds Boeing; and video-game publishers called to account.

Coming to C-SPAN this summer: a new version of reality TV. Last week lawmakers approved a bill — in the face of a veto threat from the Bush Administration — that would block a new Federal Communications Commission rule allowing broadcast companies to own television stations that reach a greater percentage of the national audience.

The controversial provision — which was included in a $37.9 billion bill funding the FCC and the Commerce, Justice and State departments next year — passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 400 to 21.

The House bill would block a June ruling by the FCC that allows a single company to own television stations that reach 45 percent of the nation’s households; the House would return that figure to 35 percent. Opponents of the FCC ruling maintain that it gives too much clout to big broadcasters, reducing local reporting and the diversity of viewpoints. Viacom Inc., which owns the CBS and UPN networks, and News Corp., owner of Fox, already exceed the 35 percent limit, say some reports.

The bill may yet face a tough battle on Capitol Hill. According to the Associated Press, the White House budget office believes that the new FCC rules “more accurately reflect the changing media landscape and the current state of network station ownership, while still guarding against undue concentration in the marketplace.” Should the FCC provision remain in the final House-Senate compromise bill, the White House has threatened a veto, which would be the first for President Bush. Republicans are already seeking House members’ signatures on a pledge to sustain a veto, GOP aides tell the AP; 145 votes, or one-third of the House, would be needed.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.), the chief sponsor of the provision to derail the FCC decision, noted that keeping it intact will be a challenge, but he is encouraged by the 400-21 House vote. “It’s extremely rare to be able to reverse a regulatory decision that gives away the store to the big boys,” said Obey in a statement to the AP.

Some lawmakers in the House also tried but failed to ban a company from owning a newspaper, a television station, and radio outlets in a single market, and to a ban a company from owning two television stations in most markets, according to Reuters. The FCC voted 3-2 last month to lift those limits.

Conflict-of-Interest Rules Should Be Simpler, Says SEC Chairman

The Securities and Exchange Commission is planning conflict-of-interest safeguards for financial services that would be less complicated than those in the so-called global settlement with Wall Street, reports the Financial Times.

SEC Chairman William Donaldson said that he hoped the rules would be simpler than the remedies announced this April. In that settlement, 10 of the world’s largest financial institutions agreed to pay $1.4 billion and to implement internal reforms to settle allegations that they wrote positive equity research reports in exchange for investment banking business. The SEC now has the responsibility to write rules for the whole financial services industry, based on those remedies.

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