Broadcast and newspaper companies would like to see rules restricting local cross-ownership lifted, and television groups would like more flexibility in forming local duopolies. But they won’t get to explain their position to the Supreme Court.
The big attempt to deregulate media ownership rules was initiated by the Michael Powell FCC, which did a number of things to that end during the summer of 2003. Some of it is in effect (such as using market rather than contour considerations when determining local radio ownership caps), but much of it has been kicking around in the courts ever since.
Kevin Martin’s FCC enabled cross-ownership of print and broadcast in the top 20 DMAs, but left pretty much everything else as it was before the Powell attempt at an update.
The NAB wasn’t pleased. Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton commented, “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. NAB will continue to advocate for modernizing ownership rules that stem from an era of ‘I Love Lucy’.”
Watchdog Free Press took a different view. Senior Policy Counsel Corie Wright said, “The media companies’ Hail Mary pass has fallen well-short of the mark. 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.”
RBR-TVBR observation: The Supreme Court can’t deal with everybody that desires a hearing, and they didn’t say why they are not taking this case. Maybe they believe the lower courts got it right; or maybe they are aware that the FCC is set to reconsider these rules as part of the currently pending quadrennial review.
As we see it, the Supreme Court decision not to decide puts the ball in the FCC’s court. We’ll see what it has to say about media ownership, if all goes according to plan, sometime this year, and then, likely regardless of what the FCC decides, the ball will be back in the court’s court again.
We feel we can say that with confidence, because for year after year after year, the sun never seems to set on a court that is in the midst of considering some aspect of media ownership. In this case, one of the appellants, arguing in favor of cross-ownership, is Media General, a company that has little reason to appeal any longer since it has spun off almost all of its newspaper holdings and will soon spin off the rest.
This has been a story without an ending, and we are certain that today’s chapter is also not the grand finale.