Will Supreme Court Take Up Media Ownership Rules?

Media companies petition court to hear case

For decades, broadcast and newspaper companies have been in and out of court trying to convince a series of judges that the Federal Communications Commission's media ownership rules are hopelessly antiquated. Smarting from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia's recent decision upholding and remanding the rules back to the FCC, broadcast and newspaper companies are taking another stab at it, asking the Supreme Court to step in.

Three petitions for a writ of certiorari were filed late Monday by the National Association of Broadcasters, Media General, and a group of seven media owners joined by the Newspaper Association of America. They are asking the high court to overturn the Third Circuit's decision in July upholding the TV duopoly rules and the ban that prevents a single company from owning a TV station and a newspaper in the same market—a rule that dates back to 1975 when President Richard Nixon went after The Washington Post, which at the time owned a TV station in the nation's capital.

While the FCC has tried a couple of times over the past decade to loosen the rules, public and consumer interest groups have successfully managed to challenge those changes in court.

"We're in this never-ending process. It's time for the [Supreme Court] to step in. Broadcasters and newspapers need clear rules of the road," Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy for the NAA, told Adweek.

But it's unlikely that the Supreme Court will take up the case because of the Third Circuit's decision to send the rules back to the FCC for further action.  

"There isn't a complete record," said Andrew Schwartzman, policy director Media Access Project, a liberal group that has successfully defended the FCC's rules against media group challenges in the Third Circuit. "Given that the FCC is now engaged in its quadrennial review, it would be inappropriate and unusual for the Supreme Court to hear this."

Even the petitioners realize their chances are likely slim. "We're frustrated. We're trying everything we can," said Shaun Sheehan, vice president of Tribune, which owns TV station-newspaper combinations in some of the largest markets. "The only hook I can see is that [the Supreme Court] gravitates to media issues."

Now that the petitions have been filed, there is a 30-day pleading cycle, followed by a reply cycle before the Supreme Court will announce its decision. Four of the nine justices must agree to hear the case for the court to take it. 

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