WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court dealt a blow to major media companies on Monday by letting stand an appeals court decision that blocked new federal rules easing media ownership restrictions.
In 2003, the Federal Communications Commission split 3-2 in a bitterly partisan vote to pass new rules allowing a single company to own a newspaper as well as broadcast stations in one market; the rules also allowed a company to own more TV and radio stations in a single market than under existing rules.
Last year a federal appeals court blocked the new rules, saying the FCC had failed to justify them.
Earlier this year the FCC decided not to ask the Supreme Court to review the case. The commission then petitioned the court to reject the media companies’ pleas for review.
While the denial came as little surprise, many were quick to respond.
“The importance of this case cannot be overstated,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, prexy-CEO of Media Access Project, one of several consumer groups opposed to the rules, which they claimed would be anti-competitive and would be enacted without enough public debate of their merits.
“First, the quality of democratic self-governance depends on having a well-informed electorate exposed to a diversity of issues and ideas, especially at the local levels,” Schwartzman continued. “Simply put, we rely on over-the-air broadcasting and daily newspapers for the information we use in picking our mayors and city councils.”
The court’s denial, issued without comment, means the FCC will have to revise the rules.
The FCC’s Jonathan Adelstein, one of two Democratic commissioners who voted against the rules, welcomed the news.
“The court’s decision puts the issue of media consolidation right back in the FCC’s hands and gives us an opportunity for a fresh start, so we better get it right this time,” Adelstein said in a statement.
We need to be very careful because once we allow greater media concentration, we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. We can’t let a handful of media giants dominate the discourse in any community,” he added.
The Tribune Co., one of the media groups that had asked the Supreme Court to review the lower court decision, said in an optimistic statement: “The issue of cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the same market is now once again before the Federal Communications Commission, which has a statutory obligation to deal with it in a timely manner. We are confident that cross-ownership relief will occur.”
The National Assn. of Broadcasters, another of the groups, declined to comment.