Thursday, September 26, 2019

Appeals court blocks FCC relaxation of rules against cross-ownership of newspapers and stations in same market

This week a panel of judges on a federal appeals court struck down a 2017 decision that allowed the Federal Communications Commission to relax rules about cross-ownership of media outlets. One strategy for sustainability of local news media may be consolidation of print and broadcast outlets, and this is a roadblock in a move toward that.

The 2017 decision ended the ban against one company owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same major market, and also ended limits on cross-ownership of radio and television stations in the same market. "The 2017 decision also allowed television broadcasters to own two TV stations in markets with fewer than 8 independent owners and made other changes to the radio and TV ownership rules. Yesterday’s decision also put on hold the FCC’s incubator program meant to assist new owners to acquire radio stations," David Oxenford reports for Broadcast Law Blog.

In the decision, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the 2017 decision did not consider whether marketplace changes justified the change in ownership rules or what impact that undoing the changes would have on ownership of media companies by women and racial minorities. Oxenford noted that the decision didn't speak to whether any of the rule changes made in 2017 were necessarily a problem; it said the rule changes may still be permissible even if the FCC finds that its rules adversely impact women and minority ownership, as long as it decides that the public interest requires the rule changes.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that the commission intends to dispute the ruling, and complained that the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has thwarted rules updates for the past 15 years.

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