Critics Fear Court Will Reject FCC Rules

Jul 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission’s new media ownership rules are so poorly rationalized that they’re in danger of being thrown out by the courts.
That was a key concern voiced by industry critics last week after the FCC released the 257-page explanation of its controversial June 2 vote.
“They’re a mish-mash,” said Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America of rules that would permit one company to own up to three TV stations, the local cable system, several radio stations and the daily newspaper in some markets.
Added Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, “The lobbyists at News Corp. and Viacom are shouting with glee.”
In the 3-2 vote approving the new regulations, the FCC’s GOP majority said that a key goal was to rationalize the new rules in a way that could pass muster with the federal courts.
The courts chastised the FCC for failing to adequately justify several of the regulations over the past couple of years. In a decision last year, a federal appeals court even took the extraordinary step of throwing out one of the FCC’s media ownership rules-one that had barred broadcasters from buying the cable systems in their markets.
But at least according to decision critics, the new rules suffer from the same sort of muddled rationales that irked the court before.
“In this order, the majority once again fails to provide coherence and internal consistency to the rules and rationales we adopt,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.
“Riddled with contradictions, false assumptions and outcome-driven thinking,” added Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, of the majority’s rules.
The Center for Digital Democracy’s Mr. Chester said the lack of sound rationale made even the relaxed regulations that would remain on the agency’s books vulnerable to complete elimination by the courts.
“It’s an Independence Day gift to the industry,” Mr. Chester said.
In a statement, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said FCC’s Republican majority had tried to meet the concerns of the courts, striking “a careful balance that does not unduly limit transactions that promote the public interest, while ensuring that no company can monopolize the medium.”
Assuming they survive the expected challenges, the rules won’t go into effect until 30 days after they’re published in the Federal Register, a process that could take a couple of weeks.
Among the groups that have already announced court challenges to the FCC decision is the watchdog Consumers Union.