Hardest hit would be Viacom .

Lawmakers negotiating a vast end-of-session spending bill are defying the Bush administration over television station ownership limits, but remain gridlocked over whether to challenge the White House over overtime pay rules.

With little fanfare, House-Senate bargainers decided Wednesday to include a provision that would block the Federal Communications Commission from allowing companies to own stations watched by 45 percent of viewers. That would leave the current limit of 35 percent in effect.

The decision was no surprise, since the House and a Senate committee had voted in recent weeks to do just that. Still, it meant that the Republicans who run Congress were calculating that President Bush would not make good on a White House threat to veto the legislation if it blocked the ruling the FCC made in June.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a supporter of the current, narrower ownership limits, told reporters he expected "a verbal spanking" from the White House, but not a veto.

The television ownership language represented a setback for the large broadcast networks, which say they must grow to compete with cable and satellite networks, the Internet and other new technologies.

Hardest hit would be Viacom Inc., which owns CBS and UPN, and News Corp., owner of Fox, which due to mergers and acquisitions already exceed the 35 percent limit.

The language is a victory for local station owners and a rainbow of groups ranging from the Christian Coalition to Consumers Union, which said the proposed rule would limit access to the airwaves.

The Republican-dominated FCC voted June 2 by a party-line 3-2 to expand the number of stations companies may own. The House and a Senate committee, however, had both voted to block that plan.

The FCC also voted in June to make it easier for companies to own newspapers and broadcast stations in the same community. That ruling would not be affected by the emerging legislation.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
As I recall the FCC was looking to increase the ownership cap because they were ordered to by a federal court. The reason for it was that the 35 percent cap was judged to be "arbitrary" and failed to serve its stated purpose of protecting the public interest.

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