The National Association of Broadcasters and the News Media Alliance, the trade group representing the newspaper industry, are on the same page. Both groups are asking a federal appeals court to reverse a decision by the FCC to maintain the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban.
In a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the NAB says the Commission “failed to take a fresh look” at broadcast ownership rules despite the “obvious transformative changes” in the media landscape in the decade since the agency last completed a quadrennial review. It says the FCC also ignored a previous federal court ruling, which concluded the ban on broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership “is no longer in the public interest.” The NAB is asking the appeals court to set aside the media rules which were retained, and grant any additional regulatory relief that the court decides is appropriate.
“The broadcast ownership rules are relics of a long-gone era,” the NAB’s six-page petition states. “Many have not been updated in several decades, despite dramatic evolution in the communications landscape that has eroded the rules’ original public-interest justifications and fundamentally altered the nature of competition—such as the decline of print newspapers, the meteoric rise of the internet and the explosion of multichannel and digital video and audio options for consumers.”
Separately, the News Media Alliance has also filed a petition with the federal appeals court in Washington asking it to reverse the FCC’s decision to maintain the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban stating that the 41-year-old prohibition is “antiquated and no longer serves the public interest.”
In one of the most controversial aspects of the FCC’s media ownership order, by a 3-2 vote the Commission opted to keep the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban largely in place saying the two mediums “remain the predominant sources of the viewpoint diversity” that the rule was designed to protect. That includes the rule preventing radio-newspaper combinations as the FCC concluded cross-ownership restrictions are necessary. “We are persuaded that radio adds an important voice in many local communities such that lifting the restriction could harm viewpoint diversity,” it said, leaning on data presented by public interest groups showing radio’s reach and the large number of news-talk stations.
Yet the FCC also cracked open the door to waivers, albeit slightly, saying there are situations where a newspaper-broadcast combo might not pose a “significant risk” or may lead them to share newsgathering resources. It creates a waiver for “failed or failing” stations and newspaper-related situations when the FCC can determine the alliance won’t harm diversity. To qualify as a failing operation, the company must be in Chapter 7 bankruptcy or involuntary insolvency proceedings and the paper or station must have been “dark” for at least four months.
The News Media Alliance says the FCC ignored the “increased power” of digital competitors without any “reliable” evidence to make a “rushed” decision after a federal court in May threatened to throw out all of the government’s media ownership limits if the agency didn’t complete its long-delayed quadrennial review. Alliance president David Chavern says they were “deeply disappointed” with the FCC’s decision and they have no choice but to fight a rule that long outlived its purpose. “This rule prevents our industry from achieving the necessary scale to compete in the media marketplace, while investment will continue to flow to internet distribution platforms that compete with news publishers for advertising revenue,” he predicts. “The result will be fewer resources for local news and investigative reporting—the foundation of an open democracy.”
The first of what is likely to be several appeals was filed last week. In a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, Prometheus Radio and the Media Mobilizing Project asked the court to overturn the Commission’s decision to keep most of the current radio and television ownership limit regulations in place, arguing they’ll lead to “increased concentration of ownership.”
The NAB and the News Media Alliance filed their petitions in the D.C. Circuit in Washington but both organizations say they won’t oppose a transfer to the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, which has become the go-to venue for media ownership appeals.
Your Editor Muses: This time around the FCC should use sense.