FCC Media Ownership Rules Head Back to Court

Related: FCC Is Not Bound By Trump Regulatory Fiats

Broadcasters and newspaper owners are taking aim at the FCC’s media ownership rules once again.

It has been more than a dozen years since the Third Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the deregulatory remake of then-FCC chairman Michael Powell.

After numerous succeeding court challenges and FCC decisions and indecision, the local ownership and cross-ownership rules remain on the books, much to broadcasters’ chagrin.

The most recent flashpoint was the FCC decision in July, in its overdue quadrennial ownership rule review, not to loosen or lift the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, not to loosen or eliminate local ownership regs and not to extend a 1992 Cable Act diversity initiative to other communications sectors, even after four former Democratic FCC commissioners urged the FCC extend the initiative.

With the 1992 Cable Act, Congress requires cable operators to encourage participation by minorities and women in all parts of their organizations. The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) wanted that requirement to extend across the board and asked the FCC to make that part of its quadrennial review.

“Despite representations to the Third Circuit that the FCC chairman would address this issue in a manner that would allow it to be resolved [in August], the FCC has once again punted the issue,” MMTC and the National Association of Black Broadcasters stated in their petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The National Association of Broadcasters says the FCC unlawfully merged its 2010 and 2014 quadrennial reviews and that what it produced ignores obvious changes to the market since the last review and refuses to repeal or modify ownership rules in light of those changes. NAB says the decision is a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

“The Commission has left broadcasters to labor under outdated and unnecessary restrictions (as well as new restrictions and other obligations) that harm their ability to compete and indeed survive in today’s digital media marketplace,” NAB said.

At presstime, a judicial panel had randomly selected the D.C. federal appeals court to hear the case, but the Third Circuit could still get it. Broadcasters and newspaper owners said they would not oppose a transfer; Prometheus Radio, which filed in the Third Circuit, will likely file for a transfer.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.