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Sen. John McCain on Tuesday signaled that a measure proposing to roll back Federal Communications Commission rules easing media industry mergers has a good chance of passing. “I think this will be the subject of continuing discussions in conference,” said the Arizona Republican, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, at a hearing by the panel on media ownership regulations. The Senate passed the measure in June as part of an amendment on media decency attached to a defense reauthorization bill. If the full Congress approves it, the provision would overturn FCC regulations that open the door to more mergers among newspaper, TV and radio companies. Lawmakers are debating the must-pass defense bill in a House-Senate conference committee. McCain said he did not know when Congress would approve the defense legislation. “It goes on forever,” he said. Media industry experts said a vote by Congress to pass the measure would amount to a major defeat for advocates of media consolidation, including FCC Chairman Michael Powell. McCain’s efforts to illustrate possible concerns surrounding media consolidation present a difficulty for the White House, which has faced criticism over its support for the FCC rules, said Dana Frix, a partner at law firm Chadbourne & Parke in Washington who specializes in media and telecommunications matters. “The fact that McCain has held so many hearings on this subject signals to the FCC and White House that this is not a modest issue,” Frix said. “It would be prudent for the agency to be cognizant of concerns that politicians and citizens have on this issue.” The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June stayed the rules and ordered the agency to rewrite them. Powell said recently that the FCC, which has four years to adopt new regulations, will take its time evaluating the court’s decision before issuing new regulations. One legislative observer said lawmakers are less likely to support the media provision because, in proposing to rescind the FCC rules, it has the same impact as the 3rd Circuit’s ruling. Frix, however, said the measure goes further than the Philadelphia court’s decision. In its ruling, the 3rd Circuit said the FCC provided inadequate justification for easing limits on media deals. By contrast, the measure under consideration in Congress declares that the rules are fundamentally wrong. “It’s a substance versus process distinction,” he said. In the hearing McCain and other lawmakers blasted media conglomerates, arguing that industry consolidation has diminished the quality of journalism in the United States. “Reporting on what’s going on in the world has been drastically reduced for cost-cutting purposes,” McCain said. “There are almost no local reporters looking at national stories anymore, either.” Sen. Bill Nelson criticized Powell’s contention that ownership limits can be loosened because the spread of the Internet has lead to a proliferation of news sources. Independent online news outlets generally lack the resources to report on important national issues, the Florida Democrat said. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., a longstanding critic of the FCC’s media initiative, voiced disappointment that the major television networks — Viacom Inc.’s CBS, General Electric Co.’s NBC, Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and News Corp.’s FOX — didn’t offer more coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Dorgan said 30 million to 40 million “American’s didn’t get to view many of the speeches.” Copyright �2004 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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