Editorial: Address the Bench

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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals last week heard from phalanxes of lawyers on all sides ofthe media ownership rule debate. It was just the latest chapter of what has become a War and Peace–sized saga of regulatory uncertainty in the face of mounting evidence that the Federal Communications Commission was right the first time when it decided at the beginning of the last decade that the world was changing and regulations needed to change with it.

We weren’t invited to address the court, but if they had asked us, our summation would have gone something like this:

If it pleases the court, and even if it doesn’t, there can no longer be a straight-faced defense for preserving restrictions on allowing TV stations to join forces to try and remain relevant and profitable when faced with competition from all directions.

This court has already found the FCC justified in removing the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership once. Yet even that baby step was not taken. But it will take a leap to cross the growing chasm between the old world of three networks plus a blurry UHF station and today’s world of cable and satellite and online video and telco video and mobile media and whatever is in a garage about to make millionaires out of somebody’s kids or grandkids.

Even the FCC, whose skilled lawyer has been given the unenviable task of keeping that straight face while defending the indefensible, wants broadcasters to start sharing spectrum wherever possible to make room for wireless broadband companies to start providing even more competition in the form of mobile media. We are confident that despite the FCC’s stated desire to encourage broadcasters to reduce their holdings or get out of the business, that goal plays no role in its desire to preserve rules that handicap the broadcasting business. But it is up to you to decide whether we are right or not.

At the moment, without going hat in hand to the FCC, a minority-owned station in a smaller market can’t join financial resources with an African American–targeted newspaper to provide better coverage of the community.

While we recognize that the esteemed judges must take their time and weigh carefully all the arguments presented, could we ask that you don’t take forever and that when you are done, you finally make the call you should have made the first time. That is that broadcasters face clear and present competition from a host of media to which attention must be paid by regulators who have the power, and responsibility, to preserve and protect the public’s interest in free, over-the-air broadcasting.

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