PHILADELPHIA: A federal court today prohibited common
ownership of newspapers and TV or radio stations in the same market. The U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down a 2008 ruling by the Federal
Communications Commission that allowed cross-ownership in certain cases.
“We have little choice but to conclude that the FCC did not... fulfill its
obligation to make its views known to the public in a concrete and focused form
so as to make criticism or formulation of alternatives possible,” the court
The court also upheld other ownership limits imposed by the FCC in 2008,
including those applying to local TV and radio stations and networks.
Newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership was banned since 1975 when the FCC relaxed
it three years ago, granting permanent waivers in five markets; for Gannett in
Phoenix, Ariz.; and for Media General in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Columbus, Ga.,
Panama City, Fla., and Tri-Cities Tenn./Va. Other companies with newspaper-TV
combos include Tribune’s in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and Hartford,
Conn.; and News Corp.’s in New York, among others.
The “deregulatory petitioners” fighting the rule also included Belo,
Bonneville, CBS, Clear Channel, Cox, Morris Communications, Sinclair,
The Scranton Times, Raycom, the National
Association of Broadcasters and the Newspaper Association of America. The NAB
issued a carefully worded statement following the court’s decision:
“There have been sweeping changes in the media landscape since most of the
broadcast ownership rules were adopted decades ago. NAB believes that modest
reform of rules to allow free and local broadcasters to compete successfully in
a universe of national pay TV and radio platforms is warranted.”
The rules upheld by the court and under review now include a one limiting
common ownership of TV stations in a single market to two, as long as Grade B
contours don’t overlap and one is not rated among the top four. The market must
also have at least eight independently owned stations. The local radio rule
allows common ownership of eight stations if certain standards are met. The
TV-radio cross-ownership rule allows common ownership of up to two TV and six
radio stations in a market with at least 20 other independently owned broadcast
outlets. A dual-network rule allows ownership of more than one broadcast
network, excluding the Big Four.
The newspaper/broadcast rule prohibited common ownership of a full-service TV
or radio station and a daily newspaper if the station’s Grade A contour
completely encompasses the newspaper’s city of publication. The 2008 rewrite
allowed waivers in cases where the public interest was served by
cross-ownership. Today’s ruling remands those waivers.
~ Deborah D. McAdams