FCC Asks Court To Keep Stay on Newspaper-Broadcast Crossownership Rule Change
Reaffirmed That 2008 Decision Loosening Ban No Longer Reflected Views Of Commission Majority
John Eggerton 10/2/2009 2:34:59 PM

The Federal Communications Commission has asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the court's current stay of the agency's newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule change in place for a while.

In a status report filed with the court, the commission reaffirmed that its 2008 decision to loosen the ban no longer necessarily reflected the views of a majority of the commission (the 2008 was a Republican majority, the current majority is Democratic). The commission back in May, when it was a different, though still Democratic majority, had made that point to the court in asking that the stay be kept in place.

The court complied, but asked for an Oct. 1 status report on the FCC's progress on the issue.

In that 2008 decision, the FCC modified the outright ban on newspaper/broadcast crossownerships in the top 20 markets and outlined a new waiver process for smaller markets.

The FCC said this week that the 2008 order does not, of necessity, "incorporate" the views of the three new commissioners, which does not ascribe opposition but instead is pointing out they weren't around to weigh in at the time.

The FCC also pointed out that it has to revisit its rules as part of a quadriennial statutory review and has already begun that process with the announcement of some workshops to get public input for that review, the first being held in November.

There are also challenges to the rule-loosening by public interest groups at the commission and by both sides in the court (broadcasters and newspaper owners thought it was too little loosening, consoloidation critics said it was too much).

The Common Cause petition for reconsideration, however, is under consideration by the agency. As important, the new Commission is under a statutory obligation to review its media ownership rules this coming year, and to repeal or modify any ownership rules that it finds are no longer in the public interest.

"Under these unusual circumstances, the Commission supports keeping the current stay in place," the commission said.

The FCC's media ownership rules have been under some form of court challenge, stay, or review since then -FCC chairman Michael Powell tried to loosen them in 2003.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin argued the 2008 rules were a modest change and a compromise, but they were almost immediately taken to court by both sides and the regulatory uncertainty broadcasters and Wall Street dislike continued.