Broadcasters Seek Rule Review


The Federal Communications Commission may not be standing up for its deregulatory ownership rules, but broadcasters are.

As expected, Tribune, Fox, NBC Universal, and Viacom (which owns CBS), weighed in Monday at the Supreme Court, asking it to review an appeals court decision remanding the FCC's rules for lack of sufficient justification. ABC had not weighed in at press time.

The deadline for filing was Jan. 31.

Also as expected, the broadcasters are using the opportunity to ask for review of the Supreme Court's Red Lion decision (the spectrum scarcity rationale) for regulation of broadcast speech.

Broadcasters argue that the Philly court remand is in conflict with earlier Supreme Court and other appeals court decisions on "the treatment of regulation that singles out a particular class of speakers," as well as an earlier D.C. circuit court decision on the status of ownership rules.

The FCC in June 2003 passed deregulatory rules that stemmed from what it saw as that D.C. appeal's court's direction to prune rules that were not demonstrably in the public interest. The new rules generally deregulated ownership by allowing more duopolies (ownership of two stations in a market), some triopolies, and allowing newspaper/broadcast crossownership. It also tightened a radio ownership loophole, which was not remanded.

Those rules were stayed pending an appeal, then remanded by the Philly appeals court for changes and better justification.

Also asking the court to review the decision were the National Association of Broadcasters and the Newspaper Association of America. The FCC's remanded rules would allow companies to own newspapers and stations in the same market. Those combos are currently precluded except for a number of grandfathered markets, and ones where companies, like Tribune, bought stations in newspaper markets with the expectation of the rule change.

The FCC and the Solicitor General's office last week decided not to challenge the appeals court ruling, suggesting, at least privately, that they did not have a strong case for High Court review.