Supreme Court refuses media ownership cases

Tribune, Media General sought review of cross-ownership rules

The Supreme Court revealed Friday that it refused to take up cases that could have led to a relaxation of the government’s limits on broadcasters’ ownership of newspapers in the same market.

The Tribune Co., Media General Inc. and other companies had petitioned the high court to review their case that the limits don’t make sense in a changed media landscape. But the justices denied the petition on Friday without comment.

The appeal also sought to relax ownership rules on the total number of stations an entity can own.

The FCC is doing a periodic review of the limits.

The court’s decision also is a setback to broadcasters’ argument that the “scarcity” rationale for imposing regulations on stations no longer makes sense in an era with so many other media choices, from wireless to satellite to cable.

The “scarcity” doctrine — the idea that broadcasters should be subject to regulations because of the limited amount of available spectrum and, therefore, viewing choices — is the rationale for ownership limits and other restrictions, the broadcasters argued. The Supreme Court sided with broadcasters last week in their challenge to the FCC’s indecency rules, but the ruling was on very narrow grounds, and stations had hoped that a review of the ownership limits would give them another shot at getting the high court to weigh in on the “scarcity” rationale.

“We’re disappointed the Supreme Court declined to review rules that limit local broadcasters’ ability to compete with our national and multinational pay programming competitors,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “NAB will continue to advocate for modernizing ownership rules that stem from an era of ‘I Love Lucy.’?”

In 2007 the FCC, under then-chairman Kevin Martin, relaxed the cross-ownership rule for major markets. But a federal appeals court threw the eased regulations out in a decision last July. Media companies also had argued that the FCC did not go far enough, something that they hoped could have changed with a favorable decision in the high court.