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Court axes FCC minority rule

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a 1990 decision and ruled unconstitutional an FCC program granting African-Americans and other minorities a preference in the awarding of broadcast licenses.

The 5-4 vote on June 12 on the emotionally laden issue of affirmative action represents another nail in the coffin for Federal Communications Commission policies aimed at aiding minorities. Earlier this year, Congress killed an FCC minority tax certificate program designed to spur minority ownership in the media.

The most recent decision came in a case involving a government set-aside program that benefited minority businesses in the awarding of construction contracts. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor tossed out the racial preference program on grounds that it was overly broad.

Peppered throughout O’Connor’s decision were disparaging references to a 1990 Supreme Court opinion delivered by since-retired Justice William Brennan that upheld the FCC’s racial preference program for wannabe minority broadcasters.

The Brennan decision involved the minority firm Rainbow Broadcasting, awarded the right to hold a UHF TV station license in Orlando, Fla.

Legal scholars said the impact of the decision may be minimal in broadcasting, in part because Congress has killed the minority-preference tax certificate program, and because most spectrum frequencies for TV and radio stations have already been assigned.

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