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Media Firms Urge High Court to Overturn Red Lion

Jan 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a major threat to the legal rationale for broadcast ownership restrictions, TV network and newspaper owners on Monday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Red Lion — the landmark 1969 decision by the high court that established the justification for many radio and TV industry rules. The Red Lion case held that because broadcasters use a scarce government resource to deliver their programming over the air, the Federal Communications Commission is justified in its special regulation of the industry in the public interest.

The case has been used ever since to rationalize a host of FCC broadcast regulations, including one that currently bars owners of daily newspapers from acquiring radio or TV stations in their communities. But in a series of filings Monday at the Supreme Court, major media companies including NBC Universal, Fox Entertainment Group, Viacom, Tribune, Media General, Belo Corp., Gannett Co., Morris Communications Co. and the Newspaper Association of America asked the high court to de-claw Red Lion.

“It is high time to revisit the doctrine of broadcast ‘scarcity’ embraced by this court in Red Lion,” said Media General.

“This case presents this court with the opportunity to resolve whether broadcast speech is to be accorded full First Amendment protection,” added Tribune and major TV network owners, in a separate filing.

“Given the dramatic transformation in the information marketplace and regulatory environment that has occurred since the so-called ‘scarcity’ rationale was first articulated, the time is now ripe for this doctrine to be reconsidered,” said Belo and the NAA in another filing, which — like the others — also urges the high court to overturn a controversial federal appeals court decision last year that blocked FCC media ownership deregulation.

The Department of Justice and the FCC announced last week that they would not appeal the media ownership case, a development that some court observers said reduces the likelihood that the high court will accept review.

“The Supreme Court rarely hears a case when private parties appeal on their own [without the government],” said Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project.