The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia also blocked implementation of the media ownership rules, approved a year ago by the FCC under Chairman Michael Powell, until the agency acts, a copy of the decision shows.
“The Commission falls short of its obligation to justify its decisions to retain, repeal or modify its media ownership regulations with reasoned analysis,” the appeals court said in its ruling, which was approved on a 2-to-1 vote.
The 218-page decision affects rules that let a single media company own a daily newspaper, three TV stations, eight radio stations and a cable system in the same large city. It doesn’t affect legislation passed by Congress earlier this year that allows a company to own TV stations reaching as much as 39 percent of the national audience, up from 35 percent.
The ruling lends support to a coalition of disparate groups including the Consumer Federation of America, National Rifle Association and National Organization of Women that fought the FCC rules. They argued that allowing further media consolidation would reduce the diversity of local news and programs.
More individuals sent comments to the FCC in Washington on this issue than on any topic before, the agency has said, and nearly all opposed the new rules.
Powell, a Republican, has argued that the media landscape has become more diverse than ever with the advent of the Internet and cable and satellite TV. Broadcasters such as Viacom’s CBS and News Corp.’s Fox should be allowed to expand to compete better with cable operators such as Comcast Corp. and satellite-TV companies like EchoStar Communications Corp., he said.
Powell had the support of companies such as Viacom, which owns CBS, UPN and MTV; News Corp., owner of Fox and the New York Post; Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune; and Gannett Co., which owns USA Today. Tribune and Gannett would benefit from a new rule allowing a single company to own a newspaper and TV station in the same city.
“The rush to media consolidation approved by the FCC last June was wrong as a matter of law and policy,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat who led the battle against the rules. “The Commission has a second chance to do the right thing.”
FCC spokesman David Fiske said agency officials are reviewing the decision and would have no immediate comment.
News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher, Gannett Co. spokeswoman Tara Connell, Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman and Viacom Inc. spokeswoman Susan Duffy didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment on the ruling.
The three-judge court in Philadelphia said the FCC rules were flawed in their computation of newspaper, TV and radio ownership limits in particular markets. It ordered the FCC “to justify or modify its approach to setting numerical limits,” the court said.