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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Saturday, November 22, 2003

The Reagan rumpus: perhaps CBS needn't have bothered...

Last time, I relayed the suggestion that a reason the Reagan miniseries might have been pulled was that Congress was liable to pass a law annulling a (potentially profitable) loosening of media ownership restrictions passed earlier this year by the FCC - and they wanted to keep Bush sweet and ready to veto the law.

Now, the legislative technique has changed: instead of a stand-alone bill, opponents of the FCC rule change are looking to add a rider to an appropriations bill. To kill the rider, Bush would have to veto the whole bill. And he wouldn't like to do that!

(It seems to me surprising that an amendment to an appropriations bill can be made germane - House Rule XVI (4) - merely by turning it into a prohibition to use money appropriated under the bill to do a thing.)

Now, not for the first time, tracking down the detail has been made monstrously more difficult by the fact that the grownup journalists fail to specify bill numbers. What's up with that?

Salon (November 21 - ad wall) says
Adding the provision to the year-end omnibus spending bill, which is a grab bag of often-important items stuffed in at the last minute by Congress, makes it politically difficult to veto.

But the latest information on THOMAS is from September (!): both the House (HR 2799) and Senate (S 1585) versions of the Commerce, etc, Appropriations Act 2004 (WaPo July 17 ) have the following ยง624:
None of the funds in this Act may be used to grant, transfer or assign a license for a commercial TV broadcast station to any party (including all parties under common control) if the grant, transfer or assignment of such license would result in such party or any of its stockholders, partners, members, officers or directors, directly or indirectly, owning, operating or controlling, or having a cognizable interest in TV stations which have an aggregate national audience reach, as defined in 47 CFR 73.3555, exceeding 35 percent.

And now, in a process whose details I can't say I follow [1] the departmental spending bills, like the Commerce one, have been magicked into an omnibus bill which (more magic!) finds itself straightaway in a conference committee! And, according to WaPo (November 20), the committee has agreed to retain in the conference report omnibus bill the FCC rider set out above.

The Salon piece identifies the weird coalition that is behind the rider:
...right-wing Christian and pro-gun groups make up a strange-bedfellows alliance with other opponents of the FCC rules: anti-corporatist liberals, anti-monopolist conservatives, music-loving opponents of the radio behemoth Clear Channel, free-speech advocates, defenders of local media.

There don't seem to be many deep pockets amongst that lot - not, at least compared with a combination of Viacom, Vivendi, Disney and News Corporation!

It occurs to me that the rider might be what used to be called a ripper bill - a bill which, if passed, would gravely injure wealthy interests, introduced for the purpose of extorting benefits from those interests in exchange for its withdrawal [2]. With elections coming up, and many campaign warchests in need of replenishment, now is the time for Hollywood to come to the aid of the party...

  1. There are no details on THOMAS.

  2. Ripper bill can also, it seems, mean a bill with destructive effects which is designed to be passed into law: this stray letter from 1940 accuses Governor John Bricker of Ohio of approving such a bill in relation to Wilberforce College, the oldest private Negro college [now, of course, Historically Black] - increasing the size of a board of trustees to swamp representatives from WC with other Negroes, political lackeys of the Governor, one infers.

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