Friday, April 2, 2021

SCOTUS Ruling Backing FCC Was Unanimous

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission could relax rules limiting the number of newspapers, radio stations and television stations that a single entity may own in a given market.

The NY Times reports the decision is likely to prompt further consolidation among broadcast outlets, some of which say they need more freedom to address competition from internet and cable companies. Critics fear that media consolidation will limit the perspectives available to viewers.

The rules at issue in the case, initially adopted between 1964 and 1975, had been meant “to promote competition, localism and viewpoint diversity by ensuring that a small number of entities do not dominate a particular media market,” Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote for the court. But the rules, he added, were a relic of a different era — “an early-cable and pre-internet age when media sources were more limited.”

“By the 1990s, however, the market for news and entertainment had changed dramatically,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “Technological advances led to a massive increase in alternative media options, such as cable television and the internet. Those technological advances challenged the traditional dominance of daily print newspapers, local radio stations and local television stations.”

The case, Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project, No. 19-1231, concerned three rules. One barred a single entity from owning a radio or television station and a daily print newspaper in the same market, the second limited the number of radio and television stations an entity can own in a single market, and the third restricted the number of local television stations an entity could own in the same market.

Public interest and advocacy groups objected, largely on the ground that changing the rules would harm minority and female ownership of media outlets. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, agreed, ruling that the commission had not adequately considered evidence on that point. The appeals court ordered the commission to do more work “whether through new empirical research or an in-depth theoretical analysis.”

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