Tuning Out the FCC

Wednesday's House vote to roll back a recent FCC decision expanding the number of TV and radio stations that media companies can own was little more than an expression of populist spite toward big broadcasters.

It ignores the fact that the Federal Communications Commission is under a court order to expand the ownership rules. It also ignores the existence of alternative media on cable, satellite, and the Internet.

The vote is a blow against deregulation, but not quite the blow that has been reported. The 400-21 vote was for a larger bill funding the departments of Commerce, Justice, and State. And the House voted down a proposal to reject a companion FCC rule allowing a company to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market, or to own several TV stations in the same city.

Lawmakers have a personal interest in the matter. They worry that fewer media voices in their districts will make it harder to get their messages out. They would also prefer to deal with local station-owners rather than companies in New York and Los Angeles, over whom they can have less influence, especially at election time.

Unfortunately, this micromanagement of media by Congress may well become law. A similar Senate proposal is even harsher. And while President Bush threatens a veto, he may in the end decide it's not worth taking on so many of his own supporters, including social conservatives. But he shouldn't give up.

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