Supremes Deny Media Ownership Rule Appeals

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The Supreme Court decided on Friday not to hear broadcasters appeal of the Federal Communications Commission's media ownership rules, clearing the way for the agency to complete its congressionally-mandated review of those regs.

The FCC is currently proposing to loosen the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban, much as it tried to do back in 2007, but that could have been delayed if the court had agreed to hear challenges to a Third Circuit decision on those ownership rules.

The High Court was asked to overturn the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last July, upholding the FCC's 2008 decision not to loosen the TV duopoly, radio ownership or TV/radio cross-ownership rules, but vacating the FCC's loosening of the broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership rule for failure to meet notice and comment requirements.

The National Association of Broadcasters sought appeal on the grounds that there was a split in the lower courts, while Tribune (joined by Fox, Sinclair, Clear Channel, Bonneville and the Newspaper Association of America) and Media General challenged on constitutional grounds in separate petitions.

In its petition to the Supremes, NAB argued that a split in the lower courts needed to be resolved because the D.C. Circuit previously found that the duopoly rules, which limit how many stations one company can own in a market, were arbitrary and capricious. The Third Circuit, in its decision last summer, upheld the rules.

Resolving such circuit splits is one of the reasons the Supreme Court will hear an appeal.

Tribune et al. and Media General went beyond the procedural issue to challenge the underpinnings of the FCC's authority to impose ownership rules at all.

"We're disappointed the Supreme Court declined to review rules that limit local broadcasters' ability to compete with our national and multinational pay programming competitors," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton in a statement. "NAB will continue to advocate for modernizing ownership rules that stem from an era of I Love Lucy."

On the other side of the scale was consolidation critic Free Press. "The media companies' Hail Mary pass has fallen well-short of the mark," said senior policy counsel Corie Wright. "The Supreme Court wisely declined to waste its time reviewing these ill-founded industry attempts to undermine the FCC's media ownership protections. The constitutionality of these rules is well-settled. Free Press is pleased -- but not surprised -- that the Court has declined to hear these baseless challenges."

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