Sinclair Asks D.C. Court to Block Enforcement of Local-Ownership Rules

Station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group went back to the D.C. Federal Court to challenge the Federal Communications Commission's local-ownership rules once again.

Sinclair challenged those rules in 2002, with the court directing the FCC to either better justify them or throw them out. The FCC did neither, Sinclair said, and it asked the court Friday to tell the FCC to immediately "abandon enforcement" of the rules and review Sinclair's station applications, which it said have been held up for six years.

Sinclair's late move came in response to the FCC's decision Dec. 18 to leave those rules in place, which allow ownership of two stations in a market only if at least eight independent voices remain (the so-called eight-voices test).

According to Sinclair's petition for a writ of mandamus -- essentialy a court command that its will be followed -- filed last week with the D.C. court, Sinclair argued that the Dec. 18 decision to only modify the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule and not to change the local ownership rules, after the commission concluded in 2003 that the eight-voices test was not in the public interest, was a "remarkable about-face."

The company added that the 180 was justified by the "unsupported conclusory statements of three 'public-interest' groups and the creation by the FCC -- out of thin air -- of a new and separate video-programming-diversity requirement."

Sinclair said the commission is trying to shelve consideration of its license transfers in a jurisdictional "cat-and-mouse" game. The commission wrapped the D.C. remand into its broader ownership-rule-review remand from the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.

The FCC's ownership-rule decision was already taken to court by Tribune, which said the agency didn't go far enough and should have lifted the ban entirely on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. Meanwhile, media activists are preparing to take the ownership decision to court, as well, arguing that modifying the ban was too deregulatory.

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.