Supremes to Hear Broadcast Dereg Case

(Image credit: Mike Kline (notkalvin) via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal by broadcasters and the FCC of an appeals court's rejection of the FCC's latest attempt to deregulate broadcast ownership.

Back in April, broadcasters and newspaper publishers petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision vacating most of the FCC's effort under chairman Ajit Pai to deregulate broadcast ownership, including by eliminating the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.

Echoing the FCC's petition, media petitioners said that outdated ownership rules remain in force because a divided panel of the court has prevented the FCC from implementing "necessary adjustments to its ownership rules" that the FCC concluded would serve the public interest.

The FCC said that it has been trying to grant the ownership dereg for 17 years, thwarted by a series of decisions by a divided panel of the Third Circuit. It said the most recent decision to vacate "a host of significant rule changes" was based "solely on the ground that the agency had not adequately analyzed the rules’ likely effect on female and minority ownership of broadcast stations." 

The FCC argues that for those 17 years the court has blocked it from exercising its mandate by Congress to repeal or modify any ownership rule it determines is no longer in the public interest. 

The Supreme Court does not comment on why it takes cases, simply listing the appeals it has agreed to hear.

The FCC and Third Circuit have been sparring over successive attempts to deregulate broadcasting for most of two decades. This is the first time the Supremes have gotten involved. 

“NAB looks forward to presenting our case before the Supreme Court this term," said National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith. "For almost two decades, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked common-sense changes to outdated broadcast ownership regulations to the detriment of local journalism. The time has come to allow the FCC to modernize its rules.”

“I am very pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to review the Third Circuit’s Prometheus decision, which vacated the FCC’s long-overdue reforms of its media ownership rules," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "This is a breakthrough--a real chance to finally have media ownership rules that better match today’s realities. For seventeen years, the same divided panel of the Third Circuit has repeatedly frustrated the FCC’s efforts to amend its rules to allow broadcasters to compete in today’s dynamic media marketplace. Upon review, I hope that the Supreme Court will affirm the FCC’s reforms, which empower struggling local news outlets to thrive in today’s increasingly competitive media landscape.”

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.