Government Passes on Ownership Review


The Bush administration is not seeking Supreme Court review of the lower-court decision remanding its owership-deregulation rules for major revision, according to several sources close to the Federal Communications Commission.

The deadline for filing a cert petition (an appeal of a lower court decision to the Supreme Court) is Jan. 31, but the Solicitor General's office confirmed that it was not seeking the review.

The FCC voted in June 2003 to loosen various ownership restrictions, but an appeals court in Philadelphia remanded the rules for clarification and rewrite.

An FCC source said the commission agreed with the Solicitor General's conclusion that its case for review was not strong.

Media Access Project President Andrew Schwartzman, who helped get the rules overturned,  said he did not think the Supreme Court would take the case absent a government petition. "That is why the major TV networks and largest newspaper publishers in the country aggressively lobbied the Administration to join in seeking Supreme Court," he said.

Those owners want to be able to own more stations in a market, plus cominations of stations and newspapers currently outlawed.

Josh Silver, executive director of media consolidation foe Free Press, was not prepared to start breaking out the champagne. 

"Today's decision is not cause for celebration. It is a call to arms," he said in a statement. "The courts sent the FCC back to the drawing board to restart the entire rulemaking process, but the FCC is still dominated by industry pawns. We cannot expect this FCC to act in the public interest without listening to the public and conducting independent, credible research on the diversity of local voices."

It was not clear whether this was the government's only bite at the apple. Although it is passing on filing a cert petition, some suggested it might wait to see other cert petitions, then weigh in in support of various parts of those arguments.