WASHINGTON -- In a sign of building political heat in the media ownership debate, two Democratic congressmen are questioning whether the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission cut a "backroom deal" with Dallas-based Belo Corp. to win the broadcaster's support for his proposed rule changes.
In a letter sent Thursday, Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) asked FCC Chairman Michael Powell whether he or his staff offered to assist Belo on unrelated matters if the company reversed its stance and offered support for an FCC proposal to raise the national television ownership cap to 45% from 35%.
A Powell aide immediately criticized the letter as a politically motivated attempt to derail the chairman's review of FCC media ownership rules, which limit the size of television broadcasting companies. The FCC is expected to vote June 2 to relax some of the rules.
"It's absurd," said Susan Eid, Powell's legal advisor. "Anybody that knows Michael Powell knows that's not how he does business." Powell also has publicly denied any deal with Belo.
Executives at Belo, which owns newspapers and TV stations across the country, did not return phone calls Thursday.
In a filing with the FCC on April 16, Belo said it would endorse a 45% cap under certain circumstances. The firm asked the FCC to promise to keep the cap at that level for several years and help the owners of affiliated stations, such as Belo, contain the power of major networks. Company executives denied that Powell had asked for the filing.