High Court Refuses Ownership Cases


The Supreme Court refused Monday to disturb a lower-court ruling from last year that largely rejected the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to relax rules governing the ownership of newspapers, TV stations and radio stations in markets across the country.

A comprehensive media-ownership regime was an important goal of former FCC chairman Michael Powell, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 vote last June, struck down many of Powell’s policies as lacking solid analytical foundation, cheering consumer groups and others that believed the Powell FCC had been too deregulatory.

Among other things, Powell’s policies would have largely eliminated the ban on the common ownership of a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market and would have permitted one company to own up to three TV stations, at least one newspaper and up to eight radio stations in the country’s largest media markets.

Media General Inc., Tribune Co., the National Association of Broadcasters, the Newspaper Association of America and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. filed appeals with the Supreme Court. Without explanation, the high court turned those appeals aside.

The controversy returns to the FCC under new chairman Kevin Martin, who, as a commissioner, had backed Powell’s decision to ease ownership curbs.

"I am now looking forward to working with all of my colleagues as we re-evaluate our media-ownership rules consistent with the Third Circuit's guidance and our statutory obligations,” Martin said in a prepared statement.

Consumer groups said they are ready for a new battle with the FCC.

“I expect difficult fights ahead. Chairman Martin has signaled that he will try to divide the media-ownership proceeding into several pieces to reduce its visibility. If true, that won’t work, because the American people now know what's at stake,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of Media Access Project, a public-interest law firm that helped to defeat Powell’s policies.