FCC defends authority to mandate newspaper/station cross-ownership

The FCC last week defended its authority to mandate newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules in a brief filed with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court is currently hearing a media ownership challenge to a ruling from the Bush administration era. The FCC, then with a Republican majority, was led by former chairman Kevin Martin. Broadcasters argue that the FCC did not go far enough and should have lifted the cross-ownership ban. Those against greater media consolidation argued for more regulation.

FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick said in the brief that it was reasonable to relax the rules in the top 20 markets because combinations generally raise fewer diversity concerns due to more media outlets.

The FCC defended its power and asked the court to either drop or deny the petitions. If it doesn’t, the FCC asked that the court uphold the commission’s authority. It was not meant to be an endorsement of the Republican commission’s policy, but only the legality of the FCC to adopt such media consolidation policies.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski did not endorse the decision. “While the rules being challenged were adopted before I became chairman, I support our general counsel in arguing that the order was within the discretion of the commission and the brief’s general defense of the commission’s authority to make decisions based on the information before it at the time,” said Genachowski.

“The agency is in the middle of the 2010 ownership review,” he continued. “The review requires us to look at any changed facts in the marketplace based on a record which the commission is now assembling.”

Consumer groups were disappointed with the FCC’s petition. Both the Media Access Group and Free Press were critical of the FCC chairman's stance.

“The consequences of the FCC’s position in this brief could have seriously adverse effects on the diversity of ownership and programming in media,” said Andrew Schwartzman, senior vice president of the Media Access Project.

Free Press Policy Counsel Corie Wright said “we are disappointed that Chairman Genachowski directed the agency to defend a defective NBCO rule that has been widely criticized both for its substance and for the manner in which it was adopted.”