FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says the commission has the right to change its media ownership rules and said Congress directs the agency to review those rules periodically to determine if they need to be adjusted, eliminated or even still make sense in a changing marketplace.
The commission has asked a federal appeals court to reject arguments from media watchdog groups who oppose consolidation to reverse a 2008 decision allowing broadcast-newspaper combos in the top 20 television markets under certain circumstances. The change has not gone into effect pending court challenges.
Though the decision was made by Genachowski's predecessor Republican Kevin Martin, current General Counsel Austin Schlick filed a brief with the U.S Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia defending the agency's right to change its media ownership rules.
Genachowski, a Democrat, stated the 2008 order "was within the discretion of the commission," and the brief defends the agency's authority "to make decisions based on the information before it at the time." He said the 2010 review is underway and the FCC is required "to look at any changed facts in the marketplace based on a record which the commission is now assembling, while ensuring that our rules promote the lasting public interest goals of competition, localism, and diversity."
But Commissioner Michael Copps, also a Democrat, criticized the chairman's decision to defend the 2008 outcome.
Copps said the agency has had 18 months to reconsider the "awful" vote. "It is difficult for me to believe that our new FCC, with its new majority, is in court today basically accepting the validity of the pro-consolidation decision of a previous commission. ... The best we can do, judging from today’s brief, is to kick the media ownership can farther down the road.
"Three decades of hyper-speculation have diminished media diversity, put investigative journalism on the endangered species list and significantly dumbed-down our fact-based civic dialogue," Copps said, adding, "More often than not, the FCC aided and abetted the process."