Federal judges Tuesday ordered the Federal Communications Commission to
rewrite its 'eight-voice' restriction on TV duopolies.
The ruling is a watered-down victory for broadcasters because the judges kept
the rule in place during the agency's rewrite.
A three-judge panel of the Federal Appeals Court in Washington,
D.C., said FCC rules limiting ownership of two local TV stations to markets where
eight separately owned stations remain was 'arbitrary and capricious.'
The court said the FCC did not explain why radio and other 'voices' besides
television are not counted.
Tuesday's ruling mirrors the court's February decision ordering the FCC
to justify or rewrite the 35 percent cap on a broadcast company's national
The National Association of Broadcasters has made raising the eight-voice cap a priority,
although the suit was brought by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.
Broadcasters said they need the economies of scale provided by duopolies to
be allowed in order to make a profit in markets too small to accommodate eight
separately owned stations.
Sinclair may find the decision a disappointment because the court upheld a
rule attributing local marketing agreements toward broadcasters' ownership tallies and allowing the
FCC to deny grandfathering rights to LMAs established after November 1996.
Under that reasoning, Sinclair would be forced to unwind LMAs in Columbus and
Dayton, Ohio; Charleston, S.C.; and Charleston, W. Va.
LMAs allow an owner to operate another company's
station, and most were established to get around what was once an outright ban
on owning two stations in a market.
The eight-voice test replaced the duopoly ban in