Court rejects FCC’s decision to relax ban on media consolidation
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Thursday threw out Federal Communication Commission rules that relaxed restrictions on the ownership of broadcast TV stations and daily newspapers in the same market.
The case, Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, was brought to court by public interest groups after the FCC in 2007 lifted the 35-year-old ban on newspaper and broadcast cross-ownship. The groups claimed that the relaxed restrictions would discourage competition and diversity in the media industry.
“Today’s decision is a sweeping victory for the public interest,” said Corie Wright, policy counsel of Free Press. “In rejecting the arguments of the industry and exposing the FCC’s failures, the court wisely concluded that competition in the media – not more concentration – will provide Americans with the local news and information they need and want.”
The court said the FCC failed to give the public enough time to comment on the rules and sent the them back to the commission to be rewritten.
“We have little choice but to conclude that the FCC did not […] fulfill its obligation to make its views known to the public in a concrete and focused form so as to make criticism or formulation of alternatives possible,” the court said.
The court also upheld local broadcast ownership restrictions.
“Even though the court upheld the need for media ownership limits, industry groups are still pushing the FCC to eliminate them,” Wright added. “It’s not the Commission’s job to protect industry profit margins.”
“The FCC cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence that existing media consolidation levels adversely impact the amount and quality of news from diverse sources. Instead it should tighten current ownership limits and promote media diversity, localism and competition.”
Dennis Wharton of the National Association of Broadcasters, which has pushed for deregulation of the industry, said there have been sweeping changes in the media landscape since the ownership rules were first adopted in the 1970s, and that the rules need to be reformed to allow broadcasters to compete successfully.
“This decision is a huge victory for the millions of Americans who have gone on record demanding a richer and more diverse media,” FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps said in a statement. “The Third Circuit has brought into clear focus the shortfalls of two previous FCCs on media ownership and their lackluster performances in encouraging more minority and female ownership of our broadcast outlets.