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Supreme Court Opts Not to Review FCC's TV-Newspaper Ownership Limits

Thursday, July 12, 2012
Media General Inc. v. FCC, et al; Tribune Co., et al v. FCC, et al.; National Association of Broadcasters v. FCC, et al, U.S., 11-691; 11-696; 11-698, 06/29/2012


  • Key Holding: Supreme Court opts not to review appeals of FCC-imposed limits on ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers.

  • Impact: A high court ruling in favor of the broadcasters might have increased the incidence of media mergers and acquisitions and increased the likelihood that financially strapped stations could retain their spectrum allocations rather than returning their spectrum as part of voluntary incentive auctions.


By Paul Barbagallo

The Supreme Court has declined to review broadcasters' appeals of the Federal Communications Commission's decades-old limits on ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers, placing the focus on the agency's own quadrennial media-ownership review, which is still ongoing (Media General Inc. v. FCC, et al; Tribune Co., et al v. FCC, et al.; National Association of Broadcasters v. FCC, et al, U.S., 11-691; 11-696; 11-698, 06/29/2012).

The high court denied certiorari without comment.

“We're disappointed the Supreme Court declined to review rules that limit local broadcasters' ability to compete with our national and multinational pay programming competitors,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters, one of the entities that filed an appeal.

Wharton said the group will continue lobbying for modernization of rules that “stem from an era of 'I Love Lucy'.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld many of FCC's limits in its Prometheus Radio Project decision [53 CR 533] last July, while directing the agency to revisit its decision to ease the restriction on broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership.

As part of the commission's 2010 quadrennial media ownership review, which was supposed to be completed in 2010 but stalled as the FCC awaited the Third Circuit's decision, the agency has proposed rules that would allow one company to own a newspaper and a broadcast television station in the same market.

The FCC enacted similar rules in 2007 under Republican Chairman Kevin Martin, but the Third Circuit, in its July decision, remanded those rules because the agency did not give the public enough time to comment.

The agency had at that time allowed for 28 days, instead of the usual 90. Under the new rules proposed by Democratic Chairman Julius Genachowski, the FCC would leave in place key portions of that 2007 rulemaking, namely the elimination of the 35-year-old ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast TV stations.

If given final approval by the FCC, cross-ownership would be in the public interest in the 20 largest U.S. markets if a “diversity of information sources” remains and if the television station involved is not one of the four top stations in the market.

But while the FCC is proposing to lift the cross-ownership ban, it would not repeal its TV duopoly rule, which limits the number of local TV stations one company can own in a single market.


For the Supreme Court's order list from June 29, 2012:http://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/062912zr4f6k.pdf.

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