Court Tosses FCC’s Cross-Ownership Rule

Opponents of media consolidation giddy over decision

Opponents of media consolidation won a big victory Thursday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit tossed the Federal Communications Commission's rule that loosened the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. It also ruled to keep the limits on the number of TV and radio stations a single company can own in one market.

The court, which is based in Philadelphia where it heard arguments in February, was not unanimous in its decision. Chief Judge Anthony Scirica dissented on the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule.

Public interest groups were giddy over the decision.

"We won on almost everything. This was a significant vindication for us," said Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of the Media Access Project, who argued on behalf of the Prometheus Radio Project in challenging the FCC's rules.

In 2007, under Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the ownership rules were modified to allow a single company to own both a newspaper and a radio or TV station in the top 20 markets.

The Third Circuit's reversal comes as a blow to broadcasters and newspaper owners who have maintained the rules—which dates back to 1975, before the days of cable and the Internet—are outdated. It's also the second time the court ruled in favor of public interest groups, which continue to fight any weakening of the media ownership rules.

The decision, however, does clear the way for the FCC to proceed with its already-delayed 2010 quadrennial review of media ownership rules. In a statement, the Democratic-controlled FCC praised the Court's decision.

"The Third Circuit's approval of the 2008 ownership rules for broadcast stations affirms the FCC's authority to promote competition, localism, and diversity in the modern media marketplace," said Austin Schlick, the agency's general counsel. "With an updated record and this supportive decision, the agency should be able to take appropriate steps to ensure that the nation's media marketplace remains healthy and vibrant."