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Congress disappoints FCC, DoJ

Media mergers and the Patriot Act under fire

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The House of Representatives this past week made two interesting overtures towards the interests of the Little Guy and away from the Bush Administration's new federal/corporate imperium.

By a vote of 400 to 21, the House approved a spending bill preventing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from granting media networks control over more than 35 per cent of the market. The FCC last month voted to allow media conglomerates to control 45 per cent of the market, and lifted a ban on owning newspapers and TV stations in the same city.

Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell defended his controversial corporate giveaway, claiming that the Commission had "created enforceable rules that reflect the realities of today's media marketplace."

"The rules will benefit Americans by protecting localism, competition and diversity," he predicted.

Our Partners in Liberty Viacom and News Corp. already own stations in more than 35 per cent of the market, after being granted waivers to do so while the FCC drafted its new regulations to suit them.

Assuming the Senate plays along, both chambers will have to reconcile their versions of what to do about the FCC in conference. The Bush administration has made whining noises indicating a determination to veto a bill that would undo Powell's new regs, but it's almost certain they're bluffing. A veto would only highlight Junior's renowned loyalty to Big Business, just in time for the elections.

Also last week, the House voted 309 to 118 in support of an appropriations bill with a provision that would prevent the Department of Justice (DoJ) from using federal dollars to perform sneak-and-peek searches of private residences.

In addition, the House unanimously approved an amendment denying financial support for DoJ to exercise a Patriot provision allowing the FBI to secretly pull library and bookshop records indicating the public's reading habits.

This is the first time that Congress has dared question the USA Patriot Act, a Gestapo wish-list undoubtedly written by DoJ legal beagles many years ago but rammed through the House and Senate a month after the 11 September atrocity.

When the bill originally sailed through Congress, only a small handful of Members had been permitted to read it. The vast majority had been denied any opportunity to do so, but were unable to delay or vote against it for fear of committing political suicide as Ground Zero smoldered in the background. Apparently, a few Members have since found time to peruse the legislation they voted for, and have judged it somewhat less than patriotic. ®

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