FCC Seeks SCOTUS Review of Broadcast Media Ownership Decision

A decision in U.S. Third Circuit Court could head to the Supreme Court after a petition for a writ of certiorari was filed from the Solicitor General on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission . The appealed decision blocked changes to historical rules enacted to restrict broadcasters’ ability to own multiple outlets in one market; the court held that the FCC did not follow its mandate to take into account how it would impact women and racial minorities. The FCC argues that this decision by the court has kept them from modifying rules that are no longer needed. They claim ownership flexibility among broadcasting is good for the public and there is currently an abundance of competing content.

“In the decision below, the panel majority did not challenge the agency’s core findings. It instead vacated a host of significant rule changes based solely on the panel’s conclusion that the FCC had not adequately analyzed a single non-statutory factor that the agency has traditionally considered as a subsidiary element in its public-interest analysis,” the petition says.They claim they did request comments from female and minority ownership and there are no other “obvious” steps to take to show they are taking minorities into account in their decision.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said reforms of media ownership rules would allow competition in the media marketplace and is consistent with Congress’s instructions to modify rules that are not in the public interest. “It’s unfortunate that the same divided panel of the Third Circuit yet again has blocked the Commission’s efforts to modernize our media ownership rules … As our filing notes, the court’s decisions have frozen in place decades-old ownership restrictions that have outlived their competitive usefulness in the digital age,” Pai said in an FCC press release.

The Third Circuit three-judge panel overturned an order from the FCC, ruling not to deregulate broadcast ownership because they said the FCC’s argument did not consider the impacts of the suggested changes to broadcast media ownership for women and minorities. The Order replaced a “blanket ban” with “new, market-specific limits,” according to the Petition. The FCC argues Congress gave them the authority to regulate the markets in the public interest, which they have successfully done in the past.

Pai argued the case should be heard by the Supreme Court. “Throughout our proceedings, the FCC has solicited extensive public input, reviewed voluminous record materials, and adopted policies that the Commission determined would strengthen local news outlets. Absent further action by the Supreme Court, broadcasters will continue to be saddled with outdated regulations. The Supreme Court’s intervention is necessary to restore the Commission’s discretion to regulate in the public interest and modernize media ownership regulation for the digital age, as Congress intended.”

The Petition says Chief Judge Scirica dissented in part to a similar 2002 decision concluding the panel second-guessed the FCC’s policy judgments and should look at the changing nature of the broadcast industry. “He viewed it as more ‘prudent’ to permit the new rules to take effect, ‘monitor the resulting impact on the media marketplace, and allow the Commission to refine or modify its approach,’” the petition says. The FCC analyzes this policy and makes changes during reviews every four years, they argued that the Third Circuit panel “repeatedly prevented” them from making a change that is in the public interest and without intervention from the Supreme Court the decision will “also distort future quadrennial reviews.”