Senators warn FCC not to relax media ownership rules

Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden raises possibility of 2020 presidential bid Cures bill clears first Senate hurdle A record number of Indian Americans have been elected to Congress MORE (I-Vt.) and Maria CantwellMaria CantwellOvernight Energy: Dakota pipeline standoff heats up Obama rescinds Arctic offshore drilling proposal Overnight Energy: Hopes rise for Flint aid MORE (D-Wash.) blasted a Federal Communications Commission proposal to relax media ownership restrictions at a press conference on Thursday.

"We cannot live in a vibrant democracy unless people get divergent sources of information," Sanders said.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a proposal with his fellow commissioners last month that would relax regulations that prohibit a single company from owning a TV broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market. The order would eliminate bans on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross-ownership.

"I intend to do everything I can to prevent this proposal from going forward," Sanders said.

Cantwell said the proposal would "strengthen media consolidation and strip newspapers and TV and radio stations of diverse voices."

She threatened that if the FCC moves ahead with the planned changes, Congress could pass a resolution of disapproval, which would repeal the order.

The Senate voted against the FCC's attempt to loosen media ownership rules in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration. A court eventually threw out those changes.

"I'm confident we will push forward in Congress to do the same thing again," Cantwell said.

Sanders and Cantwell both expressed concern that the move would reduce the few number of women and minorities who own media outlets.

The FCC announced earlier this week that it would accept more comments on the proposal, postponing a vote until at least January.

In a statement earlier this week, Bill Lake, the FCC's media bureau chief, insisted the proposed order would not make it easier to own a top TV station and major newspaper in the same market.

"In fact, the order would strengthen the current rule by creating an express presumption against a waiver of the cross-ownership ban to allow such a combination," he said. "In addition, the proposed order preserves the existing TV duopoly rule, which forbids ownership of more than one of the top four TV stations in any market.”