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Federal Court Lifts Stay on Media Consolidation

PHILADELPHIA: A federal court has lifted its stay the FCC’s revised media cross-ownership rule, reports indicate. The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals lifted a stay on commission rules governing the ownership by one company of more than one TV station, or a newspaper and a TV or radio station, in the same top 20 market. The FCC under then Chairman Kevin Martin relaxed the newspaper rule in 2008, initiating the court challenge by media consolidation opponents. The court has scheduled a briefing for May 17.

“We are pleased that the court has taken an initial step that could lead to modest reform of outdated media ownership rules,” the NAB’s Dennis Wharton said in a statement.

The commission’s media ownership rules have been hung up in court since 2003, when the FCC under Chairman Michael Powell attempted to loosen restrictions. Powell reasoned the media landscape had changed since the rules were last reviewed, and that the Internet should be considered equally alongside traditional media outlets. Those traditional media outlets--newspaper, TV and radio stations--have continued on a trajectory of contraction for nearly a decade.

Robert McDowell, a Republican on the current commission, said he was pleased with the court’s decision “that until today has frozen in place burdensome ownership rules that are many years out of date.... The lifting of the stay on the commission’s very modest relaxation of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule is particularly appropriate given the economic upheaval affecting the ongoing viability of many daily newspapers and broadcast stations.”

John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable broke the news yesterday. He has detailed coverage at B&C's Web site.

(Image of Boston's Newspaper Row in 1915 from Triver)