NAB Heads to Court Over FCC’s Loosening of Cross-Ownership Rules

Look for the National Association of Broadcasters to file suit against the Federal Communications Commission's loosening of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.

"We are going to be filing in the D.C. Circuit on grounds that the decision was arbitrary and capricious," NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton confirmed, perhaps as early as the end of the day Tuesday.

Media activist group Media Access Project, which represents Prometheus Radio, already sued over the Dec. 18 decision, also saying that it was arbitrary and capricious, but for entirely different reasons and filing its appeal in the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, the court that remanded the 2003 FCC ownership rule rewrite.

As opposed to media activists, which argued that any more deregulation has not been justified, broadcasters argued that the FCC did not justify why it stopped at loosening rather than lifting the ban on TV-station and newspaper ownership in the same market and why it chose not to loosen the local-TV-ownership caps, as it tried to do in 2003 before Prometheus, with MAP's help, got those deregulatory rule changes stayed and remanded.

It is that remand the FCC was addressing, in part, when it chose only to modify the cross-ownership rule.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin said at the time that he listened to the public at a series of ownership and localism hearings and concluded that a modification of the ban and no further deregulation of local ownership caps, radio or TV, was what was in the public interest.

Tribune already filed its intent to challenge the rules, according to a source. Tribune signaled its intent early, suing the FCC over waivers it granted Tribune to co-own newspapers and TV stations, saying that the waivers did not go far enough and that the ban should have been lifted entirely.

The Newspaper Association of America also filed an appeal of the FCC's decision with the D.C. Circuit, president John Sturm confirmed, adding, "The FCC did not go far enough.”

And Sinclair Broadcast Group sued the FCC over its Dec. 18 decision, but the TV-station owner took another route, asking the D.C. Circuit to vacate the existing ownership rules rather than taking aim directly at the new ones. Sinclair also filed suit against the new rules in the D.C. Circuit late last week, according to a Sinclair spokesman

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.