The revolution may, in fact, be televised–and on C-Span, no less. The Congressional revolt against the Federal Communications Commission’s loosening of media ownership rules has stunned a Bush Administration that is not used to facing bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill. On July 23, in an unprecedented rebuff of big media’s agenda, the House of Representatives voted 400 to 21 for an appropriations bill that includes language blocking implementation of a rule that would permit a single corporation to own television stations reaching 45 percent of Americans. Then, Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan announced that after the August Congressional recess, he will use a rare “Resolution of Disapproval” to force a Senate vote to reverse both the television ownership measure and a “cross-ownership” rule change that would allow one company to own the daily newspaper and most of the major television and radio stations in a single city.
“I do expect in the Senate there is a very powerful appetite to curb if not all, then certainly a significant part, of the rules the FCC has crafted,” said Dorgan, whose co-sponsor is Republican Trent Lott. “The important thing here is to get this matter back at the FCC [and force the commission to] readdress it because there’s strong feeling in the Congress, and I believe in the American people, that they did not handle these decisions correctly,” declared Lott.
While conservative columnist William Safire still marvels at how he is lined up with Code Pink-Women for Peace in the fight with the FCC, it’s a fact that opposition to media monopoly makes for strange bedfellows. Fear that a dumbed-down, one-size-fits-all media will stifle diversity linked the National Organization for Women, the National Rifle Association, Common Cause, media unions, minority journalists, musicians and hometown activists in a coalition that flooded the FCC with more than 2 million communications opposing the rules changes. And the ideological diversity of the grassroots opposition has been maintained as the issue has moved to Congress.
Despite presidential veto threats, Republicans in both chambers keep balking. Visits home in August should strengthen their resolve, as constituents vent frustrations with the excesses of the media giants. Even country singer Merle Haggard is on board, with a song, “That’s the News,” that bangs corporate media for echoing–rather than questioning–the President’s spin on war with Iraq.
The next challenge is to get Democrats thinking bigger. An amendment by Representatives Maurice Hinchey and David Price to block the cross-ownership rule change failed when sixty House Democrats opposed it. Many said they feared that pushing too hard would provoke a Bush veto. But when Democrats are less willing to challenge the Administration than Trent Lott, they are becoming a too-loyal opposition. Instead of compromising, Congressional Democrats should follow the lead of Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, who is promoting town-hall meetings across the country this summer to back not just a rollback of the FCC rule changes but a broader push to reassert public control of the public’s airwaves.