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Rep. Maurice Hinchey is wheeling out the heavy artillery in his campaign to void federal rules easing media company mergers. The Democratic lawmaker, from the 22nd District in upstate New York on Tuesday introduced legislation that would reinstate restrictions on media conglomerates seeking to expand their TV empires. The Federal Communications Commission lifted the limits in June amid national debate over the effects of media consolidation. “Ownership of news sources has consolidated to the point where a handful of companies control the production and distribution of information,” Hinchey said at Communications Workers of America conference in Washington. In addition to repealing the FCC rules, Hinchey would eliminate a congressional requirement that the agency establish new media merger regulations every two years. This “biennial review” allows the agency to periodically weaken or strike barriers to media deals, he said. The bill also requires the FCC to hold hearings on media ownership around the country before further changes to the rules and to issue any proposals for public comment. Lawmakers and other critics have criticized FCC chairman Michael Powell for holding only one public hearing on media ownership before adopting the rules. Hinchey and other legislators who oppose media consolidation also are attacking the FCC rules on other fronts. He is pressuring House GOP leaders to schedule a vote on another measure that would void all of the agency’s media regs. The Senate passed the so-called legislative veto in September, but House Republicans have refused to bring it to the floor. To bypass Republican leaders, Hinchey said he will introduce within days a measure known as a discharge petition, which would force a vote on the veto by all House lawmakers. Although Hinchey acknowledged that passing the petition would require support from roughly a dozen Republicans, a difficult task in an election year, he expressed confidence it would succeed. “This issue has captured the public’s attention,” he said. “Don’t underestimate that.” Opposition to media mergers is bipartisan, Hinchey said. He added that some Republicans also may be eager to deprive presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry from exploiting the issue in his campaign against President Bush. The media rules, which are now under review in federal appeals court, permit further mergers among radio, television and newspapers. They also struck down a ban on companies owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market. Congress already has one notched victory in rolling back the media rules. In a compromise with the White House, which backed the FCC’s media rewrite, lawmakers earlier this year succeeded in lowering from 45 percent to 39 percent a cap on the percentage of U.S. households any single TV company may reach. �Copyright 2004, The Deal, LLC. All rights reserved.

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