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Supremes to Hear Broadcast Dereg Case

Agrees to consider FCC, broadcaster appeal of Third Circuit

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal by broadcasters and the FCC of an appeals court’s rejection of the FCC’s latest attempt to deregulate broadcast ownership.

Back in April, broadcasters and newspaper publishers petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision vacating most of the FCC’s effort under Chairman Ajit Pai to deregulate broadcast ownership, including by eliminating the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.

[Read: Supreme Court Asked to Weigh In on Media Deregulation Decision]

Echoing the FCC’s petition, media petitioners said that outdated ownership rules remain in force because a divided panel of the court has prevented the FCC from implementing “necessary adjustments to its ownership rules” that the FCC concluded would serve the public interest.

The FCC said that it has been trying to initiate ownership deregulation for 17 years but has been thwarted by a series of decisions by a divided panel of the Third Circuit. It said the most recent decision to vacate “a host of significant rule changes” was based “solely on the ground that the agency had not adequately analyzed the rules’ likely effect on female and minority ownership of broadcast stations.”

The FCC argues that for those 17 years the court has blocked it from exercising its mandate by Congress to repeal or modify any ownership rule it determines is no longer in the public interest.

The Supreme Court does not comment on why it takes cases, simply listing the appeals it has agreed to hear.

The FCC and Third Circuit have been sparring over successive attempts to deregulate broadcasting for most of two decades. This is the first time the Supreme Court has gotten involved.

“Of course, we are disappointed at this additional delay,” said Benton Institute Senior Counselor Andrew Jay Schwartzman. “But we are confident the court will see that the FCC has failed to obey its mandate to promote diversity in media voices.”