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FCC: Still Deciding On Newspaper/Broadcast Crossownership Rules

The FCC has told the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that it is still trying to decide whether or not to modify the newspaper/broadcast crossownership rules, saying there could be "further proceedings."

That came in a letter asking the court not to lift the stay on the FCC's attempt to modify its ownership rules. For their part, broadcasters told the commission that the point is moot, that the stay applies to the FCC's original 2003 attempt to rewrite the rules and that "there is no valid basis" to stay the change.

That comes despite broadcaster's own challenge of the change as not deregulatory enough.

A three-judge panel on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals April 14 agreed to delay ruling on challenges to the FCC's December 2008 loosening of the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules until a newly constituted FCC could take another look at it, if it chose to.

The court had also given interested parties 21 days to tell it why it should not lift the stay on the FCC rule change. That deadline was May 5.

The FCC in early April had reversed an earlier position and said it would no longer oppose a petition by public interest groups including Free Press, Prometheus Radio and United Church of Christ, to hold the case in abeyance pending new FCC leadership.

Under its old leadership-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin-the FCC had quietly filed a petition opposing the groups, but the FCC under acting Chairman Michael Copps said that the opposition "no longer reflects the view of the majority of the commission."

Talking to reporters about the FCC's about-face, Copps had said "I would hope as some point we would look at this again. I think that public policy would mandate that we look at this again."

In its letter to the court May 5, FCC Acting General Counsel Michele Elison did not say the FCC would definitely review the rule change, which loosened the ban on newspaper-broadcast crossownership to allow them, under certain circumstances, in the top 20 markets, and perhaps smaller markets under a waiver policy.

But she did reiterate that the majority on the commission does not support that December 2008 order loosening the ban. "The current Commission is in the process of determining whether to reconsider or otherwise modify the newspaper/broadcast crossownership rules contained in its 2008 Order. Because there may be further proceedings on remand, the Commission at this time supports keeping the current stay in place with respect to the revised newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule."

In its filing with the court, representatives of Prometheus Radio Project, which challenged the ownership rule change as too deregulatory told the court Tuesday that the stay should remain in place because the FCC is likely to modify the rule on reconsideration. And if it doesn't, because the court will likely reverse it as arbitrary and capricious.