High Court docket’s Ruling Reinstates Media Possession Adjustments
According to SCOTUS, the FCC can remove some rules
Photo: Getty Images Nigel Killeen
A unanimous decision by US Supreme Court justices on Thursday allows the FCC to ease restrictions on ownership of local radio and television. Legal observers believe the court’s decision essentially reinstates the FCC’s media ownership rules for 2017.
The FCC passed rules to lift the ban on mutual newspaper / radio and radio / television ownership and in 2017 to relax some local regulations on ownership of television programs. These new rules have been overridden for years due to the now exhausted legal challenges. Experts say.
Legal experts believe the “practical outcome” of the High Court’s decision is that the FCC’s 2017 media ownership rules now simply come into effect, said Matt McCormick, co-managing member at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth.
[Read: Supreme Court Rules on Media Ownership Question]
“The Supreme Court ruling supports the power of the FCC and other administrative agencies to make reasonable predictive judgments even when there is little evidence,” says McCormick.
The FCC is currently split 2–2 according to party lines and is under the new leadership of the incumbent chairwoman of the Democrats Jessica Rosenworcel. It is not clear whether the commissioners will discuss the Supreme Court’s decision at its open session in April. A provisional agenda for the April 22nd meeting does not mention this. The meeting’s agenda could of course be updated in the future, legal observers say.
Rosenworcel voted against the change in property rules in 2017 and reiterated her feelings with a published statement following the announcement by SCOTUS: “Although I am disappointed with the court’s decision, the values that have long upheld our media policy are – competition, locality and diversity – stay strong. I am committed to ensuring that these principles guide this agency as we move forward. “
Meanwhile, FCC Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr reiterated his belief yesterday that the rule changes made in 2017 were sensible. “The unanimous opinion of the US Supreme Court (Thursday) leaves no doubt that the FCC’s modern approach to media regulation that we adopted in 2017 was the right decision.”
Scott Flick, a communications attorney in Pillsbury, wrote on social media that he believes Thursday’s SCOTUS ruling could mean even bigger changes to media ownership in that country. He posted his thoughts on the CommLawCenter blog: “It won’t end the debate on the various FCC rules for ownership of shipments, but it will certainly change the nature of that debate and open the door to another debate – whether rules for ownership Shipments are required when everything. “
The Commission could now also consider changes to local radio ownership rules. The FCC had paused discussion of changes to radio ownership rules in 2018 at the start of a new ownership review period. The NAB at the time proposed major changes to the FCC rules that would limit the number of terrestrial radio stations a company can own in a radio market.
The current market capitalization for radio equipment was determined in 1996 within the framework of this year’s Telecommunications Act. It set limits on a sliding scale. In the largest radio market, a company can own up to eight radio stations (only five of which can offer the same service) and in the smallest markets only two stations (one AM and one FM).
Radio World reported that NAB has been pushing for market subcaps changes so that a company can own up to eight FMs in the top 75 markets while the operator can own or control an unlimited number of AM stations, among other things. Ownership Caps are the total number of stations you can own in a market, while Subcap is how many of these stations can be FM or AM.
David Oxenford of Wilkinson Barker Knauer wrote on his Broadcast Law Blog on Thursday: “After the Third Circuit’s argument has been rejected, it still does not mean that the FCC, particularly a Democrat-controlled FCC, will automatically attempt to relax the radio rule .
“Instead, we believe it is likely that the Commission will seek further comments on the issues raised in the 2018 procedure. This will likely include a call to discuss the impact of the Supreme Court decision on the Commission’s assessment of the proposed changes to the rules. It wouldn’t be surprising if the FCC also asked for an update of the comments submitted in 2019 to reflect the current state of the market. In other words, a change in radio ownership rules will not happen quickly. “
The National Association of Broadcasters, which has joined the FCC to battle the lower court ruling blocking changes to broadcast media ownership regulation, said it was still critical that the commission revised its rules on ownership of Media continues to scrutinize to make sure American broadcasters are competitive. The group’s President and CEO Gordon Smith made the statement.
“NAB praises the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court that the FCC’s recent and long overdue modernization of broadcasting ownership rules by the FCC was lawful and appropriate. We look forward to working with the Commission on this effort, as radio and television networks are essential for all Americans. “
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