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Reply Is Hazy;Try Again Later

The Supreme Court last week did not issue an up or down vote on broadcasters’ challenge to the FCC’s media ownership rules. That leaves the status of media ownership rules in about the same place they have been for almost a decade—essentially unresolved, and with broadcasters still lacking the regulatory certainty to chart an otherwise challenging future.

The Court took no action after reportedly conferencing on three broadcaster appeals to the 3rd Circuit Court decision vacating the newspaper/broadcast crossownership changes and upholding the FCC’s 2007 decision—one reinforced by the present commission—not to loosen duopoly rules. As it stands, neither the FCC nor broadcasters know whether the Court will hear the appeals, which means the FCC cannot proceed unimpeded with its proposed rule modifications since they could wind up being mooted.

Not that broadcasters are too happy with those proposed changes anyway.

The FCC is getting plenty of input on the issue. Last week, commenters had their last opportunity to weigh in on the 3rd Circuit’s decision and FCC response. The FCC had agreed to delay comments until after the Supreme Court order list, which provided no further guidance. Gordon Smith, NAB president, did not even mention the issue at the NAB convention in Las Vegas last week, but that probably should not be a surprise since broadcasters don’t anticipate getting much help from the FCC on that front.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, on the other hand, cited the FCC’s media ownership rule proposal in his speech at the NAB show. “Broadcast ownership continues to be an important issue,” he said. “In December, we issued a proposal that recognizes the ways in which the video marketplace is changing, largely as a result of broadband.”

Broadcasters don’t see it that way. In comments to the FCC last week, the NAB said that far from recognizing changes in the marketplace, the proposal would jeopardize broadcasters’ ability to compete in that marketplace.

The NAB argues “abundant evidence” is available showing that mobile digital media have produced unprecedented competition and that last-century limits on station ownership within a market or on ownership of other media hinder stations’ viability, particularly among smaller and mid-sized stations.

“We’re not asking for wholesale deregulation,” says NAB representative Dennis Wharton. “But rules that bar a broadcaster from buying a newspaper—and possibly saving journalism jobs—make no sense.”

A number of former FCC chairmen have generally agreed with that assessment, but acknowledged they failed to lift the ban for fear of angering Congress. The current FCC has not shown any signs of breaking with that tradition.

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