Oral Argument Set in Challenge to FCC Broadcast Deregulation

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Philadelphia) has scheduled oral argument in the challenge to the FCC's latest broadcast deregulation.

Argument has been set for June 11 at 1 p.m.

The court has instructed both parties to provide a summary of their arguments within five days to be posted on the Court web site, part of a program to give the public more info on its cases.

There will also be same-day audio of the arguments.

The Prometheus Radio Project, which has been battling media deregulation for a decade and a half, filed suit against the FCC's fall 2017 decision, under chairman Ajit Pai, to eliminate the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rule and the eight-voices test for local market duopolies and loosen other broadcast regulations. It said the FCC decision "ignores evidence in the record, misinterprets evidence, and fails to consider important aspects of the record."

Joined by the Media Mobilizing Project, Prometheus wants the court to reverse the decision and require the FCC to "fully comply" with the courts direction in remanding a previous Quadrennial decision after Prometheus challenged it. The FCC is under congressional orders to review its regs every four years to make sure they are in the public interest.

On Nov. 17, 2017, as part of the congressionally mandated quadrennial media ownership reg review, a Republican FCC majority, assailed by FCC Dems who strongly dissented, eliminated some decades-old broadcast regulations and tweaked others in what broadcasters have argued is a necessary move to allow them to remain relevant in a sea of less-regulated competitors.

In their bids for Tribune stations, both Sinclair and Nexstar looked to take advantage of that deregulation to hold onto more stations.

The FCC order eliminated the newspaper-broadcast and the radio-TV cross-ownership rules; allowed dual station ownership in markets with fewer than eight independent voices after the duopoly, creating an opportunity for ownership of two of the top four stations in a market on a case-by-case basis (the FCC was not calling it a waiver); eliminated attribution of joint sales agreements as ownership; and created a diversity incubator program.

In doing so, the FCC reversed a decision by the previous FCC Democratic majority to leave most of the rules in place. Prometheus had challenged that decision, too, not because it had left most of the rules in place, but because Prometheus said it, again, did not sufficiently take diversity into account, which would have led to imposing more regs, not simply leaving most in place. That earlier challenge has yet to be resolved.

Prometheus argues that the Pai FCC also failed to respond to the Third Circuit's direction, in remanding a previous attempt to deregulate, that it get better data on ownership diversity before deregulating.

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.