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When the U.S. Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there was little outcry—until after the fact, when the public realized the ruling paved the way for two companies to own 1,400 radio stations nationwide. This time around, the public was paying attention when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 last month to allow further media deregulation. According to media activist Web site commoncause.org, nearly two million Americans contacted their representatives advocating an overturn of the FCC’s latest loosening of the reins on the industry it is supposed to regulate. Congress listened. The FCC ruling was challenged both by Democrats leery of larger media corporations and Republicans concerned with de-localization of news. In a letter to the Independent’s Mike Keefe-Feldman, Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, a former radio and television broadcaster himself, wrote, “I do not believe a relaxation of the [ownership] cap is in the public interest,” and the FCC’s new cap would risk turning “local broadcast affiliates into mere passive distribution outlets for national programming.”

As of press time, the House was set to vote on a rollback of the new cap. But Eli Pariser, a media activist with the online organization MoveOn.org, contends that the most important ruling lies within the House’s Hinchey/Price amendment, which would restore the cross-ownership ban (whereby newspapers and television stations would be disallowed to merge). The amendment was scheduled for a House vote on Tue., July 22.

Despite a May 12, 2003 CNN poll showing that 96 percent of Americans believe that “too few media corporations own too many media outlets,” Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg was expected to vote against the Hinchey/Price amendment, according to his Communications Director Brad Keena, who described the amendment as “potentially damaging for ownership.”

“From what I’ve read, it’s a pretty heinous amendment,” Keena said.

Of course, there’s a good chance Keena heard that from a “news” outlet owned by one of the media giants that stands to gain most from further consolidation.

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The great thing about having a Republican in the White House is having an administration that’s hip to state’s rights and local control. Or at least that’s what we thought.

In Lame Deer, Mont., the locals thought it’d be a good idea to enact their own water pollution laws—regulations more strict than the Environmental Protection Agency’s—to protect the Tongue River from coal-bed methane drilling pollution.

In an article in the Denver Post, tribal President Geri Small said that the tribe’s request to the EPA was going according to plan until the bigwigs in Washington got word. Now, it appears the EPA isn’t going to approve the plan.

Philosophically speaking, the Bush administration might have been expected to approve the plan—under Bush, the EPA has tried to deliver more power to states. But then again, Bush does love his oil, coal and gas.

Maybe it has something to do with the way things work inside the Beltway. Fidelity Exploration & Production, which wants to extract said methane, hired the Houston firm of Bracewell & Patterson, known for representing Dick Cheney’s buddies at Enron, to lobby against the locals. As it happens, former Montana Gov. Mark Racicot, Bush’s 2004 campaign chairman, is a partner at the firm. But those guys wouldn’t peddle influence, would they?

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Dept. of mea culpas: Apologies are in order to Missoulian reporter Michael Moore. In last week’s discussion of the new dress policy across the street, the Indy mistakenly reported that Moore was seen wearing a tie. Moore, in fact, was not wearing a tie. Maybe we had ours knotted a bit too tightly.

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