FCC Asks Supreme Court to Allow TV Stations to Own Newspapers

April 27, 2020 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission is asking the Supreme Court to review media ownership rules to allow broadcast stations to own newspapers.

The FCC, along with the Justice Department, says the current regulations that prevent media companies from owning a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market have become outdated by the Internet.

Newspaper subscriptions and ad revenue have declined steadily because of competition by the Internet and cable television. Some are close to bankruptcy and business closure.

Even the Washington Post struggled financially until Amazon chief executive Jeffrey Bezos purchased it in 2013 for $250 million in cash.

The FCC has petitioned federal courts previously to realign the interpretation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which modified the Communications Act of 1934.

The updated Telecommunications Act was supposed to deregulate broadcast media to allow easier entry and spur competition in the communications business, the FCC argued.

However, all of the petitions for a new regulatory interpretation have failed as courts cling to the idea that too much media ownership by a single entity stifles the free flow of information.

A federal appellate court ruling last September also said the judges want proof the changes sought by the FCC would increase women and minority ownership of media enterprises.

The broadcasters say minority and women ownership is not the main issue behind the need for new rules. They accuse the court of overstepping its authority by imposing a misguided interpretation of the law.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in 2003 that cross-ownership between a broadcast station and a newspaper could give single media companies too much market dominance to protect free speech. Instead of easy access to information, consumers could get stuck with a limited perspective on the news, the federal courts ruled. 

“The effect of those decisions has been to maintain in effect decades-old FCC ownership restrictions that the agency believes to be outmoded,” last week’s FCC petition to the Supreme Court says.

U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argues in his certiorari petition that the U.S. Circuit’s “rulings have saddled broadcast markets nationwide with outdated rules that the FCC has repeatedly concluded — and that the panel has acknowledged — are preventing struggling traditional outlets from entering transactions that would allow them to retain economic vitality.”

The National Association of Broadcasters supports a revision of the media ownership rules.

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