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The Senate Commerce Committee voted Tuesday to bar the Federal Communications Commission from implementing its controversial media merger rules for 12 months. Attached to a bill raising fines on broadcasters that air indecent programming, the measure still requires the approval of the full Senate and the House. Yet the move was much more aggressive than expected and shows that opponents of the FCC merger rule rewrite have no plans to give up their campaign to keep the agency from loosening limits on media consolidation. “The issue of consolidation and the issue of indecency are inextricably related,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, a co-sponsor of the media measure. The North Dakota Democrat has led the congressional charge against the media rules, arguing that allowing consolidation will curtail media diversity and diminish local programming and content. The measure, which passed 13-10, also requires that the General Accounting Office examine the relationship between media consolidation and violations of indecency prohibitions during the yearlong moratorium. The FCC in June adopted a series of rules easing prohibitions on media mergers, but a federal court then ordered a delay of their implementation while it heard several challenges to the policy. The court is expected to rule by summer. Senators who support the broader indecency bill warned that House leaders would never go along with the media merger rule moratorium. “If we put it on the bill it will not be agreed to by the other body,” said Senate Commerce Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., who voted against the measure despite supporting other efforts to tighten media merger limits. Like other Republican lawmakers, McCain said the media consolidation amendment would bog down the whole bill. “It’s a deal killer,” agreed Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. Some legislative observers and lawmakers, however, are confident that this measure still has a solid chance of passage despite the opposition. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., a strong proponent of efforts to overturn the media rules, said lawmakers in both the House and Senate are increasingly concerned about the impact of broadcast and newspaper consolidation on the level of violence and indecency on TV. “The attitudes by lawmakers are evolving and the reality last year is not the reality this year,” Lott said. “I am convinced that there is a correlation between media conglomerates getting larger and larger and the increasing violence and indecency we see on TV.” Consumers Union director Gene Kimmelman said the Dorgan provision expands the debate about indecency to include media consolidation, which has the support of many Republicans and Democrats in Congress. “Everybody wants the indecency bill to go to the president, so obviously it is a viable path for the media measure,” he said Observers said the order by the federal appeals court in Philadelphia to put the media rules on hold pending appeal also has the effect of softening the impact of the legislation. That’s because in many ways the court order already imposes a moratorium on the regulations, at least until the court decides if the rules are legal. Congress already has succeeded in attacking the FCC decision to raise to 45 percent the percentage of households any single owner of television stations may reach. Lawmakers reduced the cap to 39 percent as part of a compromise with the White House. The broader indecency bill springs from an incident last month at the Super Bowl in which singer Janet Jackson exposed her breast at the end of dance routine. Lawmakers moved quickly to capitalize on the outcry by introducing legislation to raise fines for indecent broadcasts. �Copyright 2004, The Deal, LLC. All rights reserved.

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