In a major blow to the cause of media ownership deregulation, the Department of Justice last week announced that the Federal Communications Commission and Justice will not appeal the FCC’s media ownership case to the Supreme Court.
Industry sources said the decision does not prohibit media companies from pursuing their own Supreme Court challenges in the case. Those appeals are due in the court Jan. 31.
“But it’s highly unlikely that the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case without the government involved,” said Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project.
In its ruling last year the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overturned a 2003 decision by the FCC’s Republican majority that would have substantially relaxed a rule that currently bars broadcasters from buying daily newspapers in their markets. The FCC deregulation also would have eased restrictions on how many stations a broadcaster can own in the same community.
In a statement, the National Association of Broadcasters said, “We continue to believe the Supreme Court needs to clarify lower court decisions related to media ownership, and NAB will be seeking that review on Monday, Jan. 31.”
But watchdog groups said the announcement all but ensures that the FCC will now have to rethink its deregulation plan-an effort that is expected to take the agency a year to complete.
“The FCC, in redoing its ownership rules, must ensure that the rules encourage a diversity of voices and truly serve the citizens,” said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause.
“The ball is now back in the FCC’s court,” Democratic FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein said in a joint statement. “The commission should seize this second chance to do the right thing.”