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Avoiding a threatened presidential veto, Congress and the White House reached a compromise late Monday on controversial television merger limits set by the Federal Communications Commission. Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, added a measure to the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill in September that would void an FCC rule increasing to 45 percent, from 35 percent, the percentage of U.S. households any single owner of television stations may reach. But after continued pressure from the White House, House and Senate lawmakers agreed to a 39 percent cap on Monday night. This compromise will mean that General Electric Co.’s NBC network and Disney Co.’s ABC will be able to buy a limited number of television stations. Meanwhile, Viacom Inc.’s CBS and News Corp.’s FOX will be restricted from further purchases because their broadcast outlets already reach about 39 percent of the national audience. The FCC on June 2 raised the cap as part of a broad and controversial overhaul of regulations governing mergers among newspaper, TV and radio companies. Republican leaders had pledged to remove language related to the FCC rules from the appropriations bill, and President Bush said previously he would veto such a bill if it contained any media provision. But legislative observers agree that after reaching this compromise it is extremely unlikely that Bush would veto an omnibus spending bill with critical funding for scores of agencies. Other lawmakers, including Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., had hoped to include amendments voiding other aspects of the agency’s media ownership rules. Both Lott and Dorgan wanted to bar one company from owning both a newspaper and television outlet in the same market. The FCC largely repealed that prohibition when it introduced its new rules. The compromise effectively completes half of the battle between critics of media consolidation and the agency’s rules. The attack on FCC limits now moves to the courts. In September, a federal appeals court blocked the regulations from taking effect until it determines if they are legal. Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 11. �Copyright 2003, The Deal, LLC. All rights reserved.

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