Media-Ownership Rules Teed Up In Court, Again

2/23/2011 11:44 AM Eastern

Media Access Project's Andrew Schwartzman will argue for the Prometheus Radio Project in this week's oral argument on the FCC's 2007 media -wnership rule change.

The argument is being held Feb. 24 in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, the same court that stayed the initial media-ownership deregulatory changes eight years ago.

The court is hearing challenges from groups Prometheus, Consumers Union and others which argue the FCC went too far in 2007 by loosening the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross ownership and by broadcasters and newspapers who argue the FCC should have removed the ban altogether and loosened other rules.

The FCC is independently reviewing those rules again to see if it needs to make any changes, and had asked the court to hold off on a decision until it could weigh in again, suggesting it could come to a different conclusion from the members of the 2007 FCC, only two of which remained. But the court lifted a years-long stay on enforcement of the 2007 rules last March and got the briefing schedule/oral argument ball rolling.

An FCC spokesman said that associate general counsel Jacob Lewis will argue the case. On behalf of the deregulatory side-newspapers and broadcasters-- there will be a series of lawyers arguing various parts of the case, with Virginia Seitz of Sidley & Austin said to be handling much of the heavy lifting, according to someone familiar with the lawyer lineup. Each side will get a half-hour, with the FCC getting a full hour to defend itself.

The FCC's media-ownership rules have been in a state of flux since at least 2003, when the same Third Circuit stayed enforcement of then-FCC chairman Michael Powell's deregulatory rule changes and remanded them back to the FCC for a second look. Prometheus had challenged them then, too.

The FCC's 2007 decision did not reinstate any of those Powell changes, and only loosened the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban--the Powell changes included lifting the ban altogether. But that, too, was challenged and those rules stayed until last year, when the court said it was time get moving.

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