Friday, July 8, 2011

Third Circuit to FCC: Back to Drawing Board on Media Ownership Rules

Seal, United States Court of Appeals for the T...Image via WikipediaIn Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC (Case Nos. 08-3078/08-4468), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit this week resurrected media cross-ownership restrictions, ruling that the FCC 2007 decision to relax limits on entities owning newspapers and television stations in the same market ran afoul of the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") [5 U.S.C. sec. 551].

In a controversial vote in 2007, the FCC loosened the cross-ownership ban and permitted the same entity to own a tv station and a newspaper in the 20 largest media markets provided the market in question boasted at least eight media outlets to compete against the dual-media owner. Consumer advocacy groups, including the Prometheus Radio Project, believed the lifting of the ban discouraged diversity of media ownership. Essentially, critics claim if the same media conglomerate owns a daily newspaper and a tv station in the same town, the public isn't getting two viewpoints, but the same viewpoint two times.

The 3rd Circuit, which in 2004 also overturned an FCC action that slackened media ownership rules, faulted the FCC for not adhering to APA protocol, which usually allows 90 days for objections and comments to rule changes. In 2007, the FCC set aside only 28 days for comments after announcing the media ownership ban lifting in a New York Times editorial by the FCC Chair.

The cross-ownership ban had been in effect more than three decades before the FCC changed the rule in 2007. This week, the 3rd Circuit told the agency to take another look at media ownership.

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