Appeals court stays Commission ownership rule change

A federal appeals court has stayed rules the Federal Communications Commission passed in June to raise the national audience cap and allow cross-ownership of television stations, radio stations and daily newspapers in the same market.

On Sept. 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia granted the emergency stay which temporarily holds in-tact existing media ownership rules, including the 35 percent audience cap for television networks and prohibitions against owning television and daily newspapers in the same city.

The court acted on an appeal filed on behalf of the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based organization that promotes community access radio by the Media Access Project, Washington D.C.-based interest group.

In its ruling, the court pointed to the irreparable harm that would occur if the commission’s rules were allowed to stand while an appeal on the merits of the case was considered. “The harm to petitioners absent a stay would be the likely loss of an adequate remedy should the new ownership rules be declared invalid in whole or in part,” the ruling said. “In contrast to this irreparable harm, there is little indication that a stay pending appeal will result in substantial harm to the Commission or to other interested parties.”

The ruling concluded that at this point it is difficult to predict whether Prometheus would be successful on the merits of the case, but the harm resulting from failing to grant the stay could be greater than not. “Given the magnitude of this matter and the public’s interest in reaching the proper resolution, a stay is warranted pending thorough and efficient judicial review,” the ruling said.

“Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the media ownership fight has been the outpouring of public support for diverse media ownership,” a Media Access statement said. “The judges in the Third Circuit explicitly acknowledged that the broad, bipartisan opposition to the FCC’s actions influenced their assessment of the case and whether a stay was in the public interest.”

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