The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The CBS/Reagan/FCC saga: whoda thunkit...

So not in my wheelhouse - but the Reagan miniseries farrago got me started on the strange case of the FCC diversity of ownership rules [1], and it hasn't disappointed in entertainment value.

To recap briefly, in June, the FCC issued a ruling raising the percentage of national aggregate audience reach [2] that could be controlled by any one company from 35% to 45%. An unholy alliance (including consumer groups and the NRA) took up arms against it, and persuaded both the House and Senate to insert a rider into the Commerce Appropriations Bill reversing the ruling (or something to that effect).

Now, as the unfinished appropriations bills have been rolled into HR 2673 [3], and timing gets tight, a deal has been done for the FCC limit to be pegged back - but only to 39%.

On the face of it, it sounds as if Hollywood has got the fuzzy end of the lollipop. But - and this was a point of information that should have excited my interest before, had I actually been interested in substantive questions of US TV regulation - one has to look at the numbers (courtesy of the LA Times November 26): ABC and NBC both currently score below the original 35% limit; Fox is at 38%, and CBS - who rolled over on the Reagan controversy - tops out at just 39%. Spooky or what!

The status of this deal is open to question: the Times says it was made between the White House and the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Ted Stevens (R-AK). The Dems are supposedly hopping mad. I'm not clear whether it made the conference report (USA Today November 25 suggests not.). Even if it did, it may be the sort of ballast that will get thrown out of the process at the last moment to make the appropriations balloon fly.

If I understand matters aright, the temporary funding authorisations under which the Federal government is operating in Financial Year 2004 [4] will expire on January 31 2004. Since, in presidential election year, no one (surely?) is going to want to risk a Newt Gingrich-style government shutdown, a deal will have to be done [5].

Can Hollywood get leverage? Whose palms do they grease? Will the NRA ride into town for a shootout? Is that an Ennio Morricone soundtrack I'm hearing...

I think that's enough FCC, Ed. Probably.

  1. For links to FCC ruling and backstory, work back from November 22.

  2. For the existing rule, see main document p197a; 47 CFR ยง73.3555(e)(1) for those with Lexis or Westlaw!

  3. Which was the Agriculture bill, but was colonised to become the Consolidated Appropriations bill. The THOMAS text for the bill is way out of date. The link to the conference report (108-401), with the text of the Consolidated bill, brings up a blank page, more or less; nor is the report on the GPO system.

  4. I am pretty sure that, for US Federal government purposes, the financial year runs to June 30, and is known by the calendar year in which it ends. Mr Google strikes out confirming this.

  5. There is no line-item veto - thanks to the Supremes in Clintonv New York City. Both Bush and (if they can muster the votes) the Congressional Dems have the choice of going nuclear or compromising - no Mister In-Between.

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