Sen. John McCain proposes media legislation

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GOP presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) on Sept. 13 offered legislation that would let a single media company own TV stations reaching up to half the broadcast audience and perhaps more.

Current Federal Communications Commission rules bar a single company from owning stations that reach 35% of the national audience, a figure that could force Viacom to sell off some local TV stations in order to complete its recently announced acquisition of CBS. Sen. McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced similar legislation in 1997; an aide said the new legislation was unrelated to the Viacom transaction.

In a statement, Sen. McCain said the FCC hadn't done an adequate job of reviewing the 35% figure in light on other competition and that his proposals would make ownership rules "Y2K compatible.''

He called current ownership restrictions "as out of date as Alice Kramden's ice box.''

Sen. McCain's bill would also eliminate restrictions on newspaper publishers that prevent them from buying broadcast stations in markets where they also own papers.

While Sen. McCain's bill would allow a media company to buy stations reaching 50% of the broadcast audience, the net figure could be far higher. The FCC in determining its 35% figure counts only half the audience for UHF stations, thus allowing media companies to exceed the 35% cap.

Copyright September 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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