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Court Stomps on Ownership Rules

Court Stomps on Ownership Rules

A majority of judges on a federal appeals court in Philadelphia has sent most of the FCC’s new media ownership rules back to the commission to be justified. The new rules, passed more than a year ago by the commission, have been stayed pending the appeal. They remain so.
The decision upholds the right of the commission to adopt ownership limitations on broadcast stations, but rebukes the agency for not sufficiently justifying its numerical ownership limits for each of television, media cross-ownership and radio.
The decision criticizes the commission for assuming that each media interest of the same type makes an equal contribution to diversity and competition in a local market. The court suggests that the specific market share of various media must be taken into account in fashioning numerical restrictions on ownership.
For radio, the court:
— Upheld the use of Arbitron Radio Metros to define a market for ownership purposes,
— Said the use of numerical limits for radio ownership was unjustified,
— Decided that including non-coms in a total market radio station count is justified, and
— The existing contour overlap methodology, if retained by the FCC for smaller markets, may not be upheld by this court in the future.
What happens now?
For broadcasters, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice attorney John Garziglia said the court might be asked to re-hear the case with all of its members. If so, it could take six months up to a year before the case would be resolved.
The court instructed the FCC to hold further proceedings to justify its numerical limits.
“Assuming that further FCC decisions on the ownership limits are reached with a new administration in the White House, the decision could look radically different than the decision rendered last June, and could be just as subject to further court challenge,” said Garziglia. He said Congress may get involved in the limits, but members may take into account the current blame that is being placed on media concentration for such things as indecency and violent programming, and legislative action may result in more stringent ownership restrictions