The owners of CBS, NBC and Fox Tuesday asked a federal court to throw out new broadcast-ownership rules, claiming restrictions on speech that violate the First Amendment and run contrary to deregulatory provisions of a 1996 law passed by Congress.
The three networks called for greater ownership deregulation in a joint brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.
But consumer groups are fighting hard on the other side, arguing that the Federal Communications Commission caved into media conglomerates when it adopted rules in June that permit the networks to own more stations locally and nationally.
In their brief, CBS, NBC and Fox took aim at a rule that limits the reach of their signals to 45% of all U.S. TV households. "In practical effect, the rule prohibits a firm from engaging in constitutionally protected speech to 55% of the potential national television audience," the networks said.
In addition to calling for elimination of the 45% cap, they urged judicial repeal of a rule that bars a company from owning more than one of the top-four-ranked TV stations in a local market.
The FCC moved the national cap from 35% to 45%. The House and Senate have advanced spending bills calling for the restoration of 35%. Both CBS and Fox exceed 35%, currently operating near 40% under FCC waivers.
The Third Circuit has scheduled oral arguments for Feb. 11, with a decision expected later in the year. On Sept. 3, the court issued an order staying the FCC's new rules from taking effect during the period of judicial review.