It took 17 years for the issue of media ownership to make its way to The Supreme Court. On Thursday, the highest court in the land ruled 9-0 that the FCC was within its rights to modify those rules, reversing the decision by the Third Circuit Court, which both the FCC and NAB has accused of interfering in the process for years.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the “Federal Communications Commission’s orders were not arbitrary and capricious. Based on the record evidence available, the FCC reasonably concluded that modifying its broadcast ownership rules would not harm minority and female ownership of broadcast media. I write separately to note another, independent reason why reversal is warranted: The Third Circuit improperly imposed non-statutory procedural requirements on the FCC by forcing it to consider ownership
diversity in the first place.”
Following the ruling NAB CEO Gordon Smith said, “NAB commends today’s unanimous decision by the Supreme Court that the FCC’s recent and long-overdue modernization of its broadcast ownership regulations was lawful and appropriate. It is critical that the Commission continue to examine its media ownership rules to ensure that America’s broadcasters are able to compete and meet the needs of local communities across the nation in today’s media landscape. We look forward to working with the Commission on this effort given the essential role radio and television broadcasters play for all Americans.”
Congress mandates The FCC look at Media Ownership rules every 4 years and make changes, if needed, to determine whether the rules on the books remain “necessary in the public interest as the result of competition.” The agency is required to review the rules as a result of The 1996 Telecommunications Act. Nobody would argue that the competitive landscape has remained the same since 1996 yet the FCC has been stymied from updating its rules for nearly two decades by the Third Circuit.
In 2017 The FCC repealed the ban on owning a television station and newspaper in the same market, and a similar rule for owning TV and radio stations. The FCC argues that it was simply doing the job it’s required to do as mandated by Congress and the Third Circuit is interfering.
Prometheus Radio Project, a collection of low-power radio stations was fighting the FCC’s plans to modernize the rules. They’ve been arguing that The FCC’s changes would adversely impact female and minority ownership. Both the NAB and DOJ’s Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart argued that there’s no evidence that would be the case, and, that doesn’t even need to be considered when the rules are modernized.
Justice Thomas wrote The FCC had no obligation to consider minority and female ownership. “Nothing in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 directs the FCC to consider rates of minority and female ownership.”
Read today’s ruling HERE.