High Court Wisely Upholds FCC Rules On Media Cross-Ownership

The Supreme Court last week upheld a 2017 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to loosen rules on media ownership. That's a victory for local media outlets that can better pool their resources as they face declining advertising sales.

The ruling on a lawsuit between the FCC and Prometheus Radio Project centered on the agency's move in 2017 to relax rules on broadcaster ownership. The wide-ranging reforms included a measure to get rid of a 45-year-old restriction that prevented cross-ownership of local newspapers and TV stations.

Critics of the measure challenged the FCC, claiming it hadn't considered whether the rule changes would negatively affect media ownership by women and minorities. A federal appeals court in 2019 sided with those critics, but the Supreme Court reversed the ruling.
“The FCC considered the record evidence on competition, localism, viewpoint diversity, and minority and female ownership, and reasonably concluded the three ownership rules no longer serve the public interest,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the unanimous court decision. “The Commission further explained that its best estimate, based on the sparse record evidence, was that repealing or modifying the ... rules at issue here was not likely to harm minority and female ownership.”
While the FCC's restrictions on cross-ownership were well intended in trying to give consumers more choices for information, the media landscape has changed drastically since the 1970s.
TV stations are losing audiences as more people spend time with streaming video on connected devices like smart TVs and mobile phones. Local newspapers have struggled with declining readership and the loss of revenue as advertisers shift their spending to social media and internet search. Classified ads disappeared amid competition from services like Craigslist.



And yet, I still believe there is a big demand for local news that's more immediate to people than what's happening in Washington or worldwide. In my household, we have subscriptions to The New York Times, Newsday for more regional news and a local weekly published by Anton Media Group for even more granular information.
We also read the local installment of Patch, though one of the most informative sources of news consists of the email alerts from the principal of my kids' high school. Almost every week, there's a new warning about an anonymous student who contracted COVID-19, along with an advisory about contact tracing. This information is important, and media outlets are figuring out ways to supply news in a way that's sustainable as a business.
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