The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear an appeal by the Federal Communications Commission over its attempt to loosen restrictions on a company's ability to own a local broadcast station and newspaper in the same market.
The FCC has been attempting to revise restrictions on cross-ownership since 2003, but the agency's efforts have repeatedly been struck down in court.
The most recent FCC attempt occurred in November of 2017, when the agency voted 3-2 to do away with several ownership restrictions -- including one that prevented the same company from owning a newspaper and broadcast station in the same market.
Organizations representing the broadcast and newspaper industries supported that change, while consumer advocacy groups opposed it.
A coalition including Prometheus Radio Project and watchdog Free Press sued the FCC over the rule change.
Last year, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC's move on the grounds that the agency didn't consider how the revisions would affect ownership of media by women and minorities.
On Fridat, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who backed the 2017 rule change, called the Supreme Court's decision to hear the dispute “a breakthrough.”
“For seventeen years, the same divided panel of the Third Circuit has repeatedly frustrated the FCC’s efforts to amend its rules to allow broadcasters to compete in today’s dynamic media marketplace,” he stated. “Upon review, I hope that the Supreme Court will affirm the FCC’s reforms, which empower struggling local news outlets to thrive in today’s increasingly competitive media landscape.”
Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who also voted in favor of the 2017 revisions, said he was “elated” that the court “will finally review the FCC’s broken and outdated media ownership rules.”
“Our existing 1970’s-era regulations don’t come close to matching up with today’s vastly competitive media marketplace or the law and must be jettisoned,” he stated.
The News Media Alliance, an industry group representing newspapers, also cheered news of the court's move.
“The media cross ownership rule is derived from a bygone era that no longer exists in today’s diverse media landscape,” David Chavern, the organization's president and CEO, stated Friday. “We hope the Supreme Court will recognize that reinstating the FCC’s changes to repeal this rule will help sustain local news media at a monumental time in our country’s history when local news is needed more than ever.”
But advocacy group Free Press criticized the FCC for continuing with its push to lift restrictions on cross-media ownership.
“While today’s decision gives the broadcast-industry another chance to argue for greater media consolidation, we’re confident that there is nothing for the Supreme Court to fix,” Free Press co-CEO Jessica González stated. “For far too long the FCC leadership has served as an arm of the broadcast lobby, refusing any accountability for the shameful lack of ownership diversity in U.S. media.”