In a shocking setback for Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael
Powell, a federal court Wednesday blocked the agency from enforcing new
broadcast-ownership rules he pushed through in June amid bipartisan criticism on
Acting one day before the rules were officially to take effect, a three-judge
panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued the stay just a
few hours after conducting oral arguments for two hours and 15 minutes in a
The unanimous ruling was handed down by U.S. Circuit Judges Anthony J.
Scirica, Thomas L Ambro and Julio M. Fuentes. In a three-page order, the judges
said they wanted to preserve the status quo while litigation was pending.
At the hearing, all three judges made clear their concern that mergers made
possible by the new FCC rules could not be reversed if the rules were ultimately
The court, however, did not rule on a motion by NBC, CBS and Fox to transfer
the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit -- a tribunal that
has struck down several FCC media rules in recent years. That decision is not
expected for a few weeks.
"While we are disappointed by the decision by the court to stay the new
rules, we will continue to vigorously defend them and look forward to a decision
by the court on the merits," Powell's spokesman said in a prepared
Egged on by various industry opponents and consumer groups, the House and
Senate have already taken steps to overturn the FCC's rules, which would allow
the "Big Four" broadcast networks to own more local TV stations and permit
greater concentration among TV stations, radio stations and newspapers within
the same local market.
"I think this is great news," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who is
sponsoring a special resolution designed to nullify the entire FCC decision. "It
stops the process dead in its tracks for now."